Unionists are fighting for better workplace conditions for California’s pot trimmers

There is good and there is bad news for California’s pot trimmers. The good news is that unionists are hard at work to ensure that this group of workers for the marijuana industry get a fair shake. The bad news is that quick and tax-free cash under-the-table could soon become something of the past.

As California unionists take a hard and long look at protecting the marijuana industry’s immigrant-dominated pot trimmers’ workforce, the reality for these artisans is that their hard-earned cash will no longer escape the scrutiny of law-enforcers.

By its very nature, pot trimming is seasonal work and, over the years, has attracted a predominantly migrant workforce. This has led to “slave labor” conditions at many suspect marijuana farms, with trimmers working up to 15-hour shifts under conditions that can be best described as inhumane. It has also been well documented that female workers have been subjected to sexual abuse and that trimmers have been threatened at gunpoint.

With paychecks in the region of $100 to $300 a day, it is easy to understand why pot trimmers are prepared to suffer illegal labor practices. One of the hot-spots is Mendocino County. Pot trimmers from all corners of the world descend on the region during the fall when cannabis is harvested. Apart from Americans, comprised largely of Latinos, these people arrive from European countries such as France, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

Unionists step in

Robert Chlala, a consultant for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, says the time has arrived to put an end to pot trimmers being treated as contingent workers and independent contractors. He says this sector deserves the same protection as of the rest of the marijuana industry’s workforce. Chlala points out that pot trimming is an essential element in the production line, comparable to the agricultural sector’s annual harvesting seasons. Chlala is also the president of Latinos for Cannabis.

It is generally believed that unionists have set Santa Barbara in their sights for their campaign to improve working conditions for pot trimmers because the area is booming as a major player in the California marijuana industry.

The California labor law

In terms of the law, marijuana operators in California who employ 20-plus workers must enter into a peace agreement with unions that represent industry workers. The peace agreements ensure that marijuana licensees enforce labor protection methods such as:

  • Freedom from harassment, including sexual abuse
  • Regular pay schedules, including incremental wages
  • A “just cause” employment termination agreement
  • Regular work breaks

Another benefit that unionists are fighting for is health insurance and are optimistic that pot trimmers will enjoy better working conditions and a living wage in the future.

California is a diverse pot marketplace

California Growers Association’s executive director, Hezekiah Allen, warns against generalizations. He points out that California is a diverse pot marketplace and that working conditions experienced by trimmers can be vastly different. Because of its diversity, working conditions can vary from good to bad says Allen, referring to employment at a licensed marijuana farm in comparison to conditions that could exist at illegal grows. Allen says guns are more likely to be found on the premises of an underground farm.

Another and well-documented complaint by pot trimmers is the sexual abuse they have been known to suffer on illegal farms. This grim aspect of the pot trimmers workplace was highlighted by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), a highly-acclaimed non-profit journalism California-based news organization, when it revealed that females have been subjected to working topless and forced to perform fellatio in return for being paid for work they had already completed.

A closer look at pot trimmers

Generally referred to as “trimmigrants”, these workers are often maligned as unskilled laborers who can perform their tasks while “high” on the product they are trimming. This, says one legal and long-established California marijuana grower, is highly unfair because trimmers are a vital link in the industry’s supply chain. Their job is to snip away all the leaf so that the flowers are beautifully showcased – a task that may be tedious, but vitally important to obtain top-dollar in the marketplace. And this, he points out, is a craft that will always have to be performed manually.


Because of their nomadic lifestyle and an earning capacity limited to seasonal work, “trimmigrants” deserve a fair shake of the money-pot as well as decent working conditions. They are a business asset and deserve the acknowledgement of the industry as a whole. Their craft ensures that product is not wasted with bad trimming – an action that would prove to be a financial disaster for growers.

The time for change is being heralded by unionists who want to see better protection for pot trimmers and are setting their sights on Santa Barbara to introduce measures that will revolutionize industry standards throughout the country.

No one can dispute the fact that marijuana is big business and yet again California can be in the forefront of change with the introduction of good business ethics and improved working conditions for the untold numbers of pot trimmers who descend on the State each fall.

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