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Nesbitt Wants Mandatory Labor Peace Rule To Swim With The Fishes

December 17, 2019

The state would like to offer marijuana businesses some protection — and it’s an offer they can’t refuse.

It’s not clear if Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) is a fan of The Godfather, but he made it clear how he feels about proposed state regulations that would require marijuana businesses to have a labor peace agreement with a union as a condition of state licensure.

With Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) Executive Director Andrew Brisbo before his committee Thursday, Nesbitt asked Brisbo if he knew what a protection racket was.

When Brisbo said he didn’t, Nesbitt read a definition — for readers not familiar with mob tactics, it’s when a business or individual pays an organized crime syndicate to be free from “harassment,” including from the organized crime outfit itself.

Nesbitt then referenced the required peace agreements in the MRA rules, which he said would, at a minimum, protect the state’s interests by prohibiting labor unions from engaging in strikes, pickets or some other labor stoppage, or any other economic interference.

“Do you see any similarities here?” Nesbitt asked Brisbo.

“With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, that seems like a stretch,” Brisbo replied.

Nesbitt pressed on, asking later how a protection racket was any different from a “scheme protecting from economic interference.”

“To take that leap sir, again with all due respect, one could make the argument that government, in and of itself then, is, organized crime,” Brisbo said.

After the hearing, Nesbitt expanded on his comments that imposing a union peace agreement on businesses is no different than the mob demanding payoff money for protection.

“This is a very nice business you’ve got here. Wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to it,” Nesbitt said, role-playing a possible exchange between the bad guys and a business owner.

Then, speaking as a senator, he went on, “I’d like to start a business here but I can’t without signing these labor agreements . . . this is another attempt to force unionization on an individual. This should be about freedom and allowing the marketplace to take hold.”

Brisbo said after the hearing he spent time yesterday with staffers representing House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and “they expressed their concerns.”

Brisbo said he “didn’t follow the analogy” suggested by Nesbitt and “I don’t think it’s appropriate to the circumstances. We’re trying to establish cooperative agreements between operators and those who have an interest in this industry.”

The MRA’s proposed labor peace agreement requirement was the first focus of Nesbitt’s questioning during Brisbo’s appearance Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that covers Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) spending.

Nesbitt questioned Brisbo about who wanted this rule. Brisbo said the agency talked to many stakeholders. When Nesbitt asked if he was wrong that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office and labor unions asked for the rule, Brisbo said the administration and labor unions are supportive of it.

After the hearing, Nesbitt described this as, “just a payback from the administration to the union bosses and it’s very sad to see. You don’t need labor peace agreements.”

Nesbitt asked during committee that if a business didn’t have a peace agreement signed, if it meant the license application would be rejected. Brisbo said that’s how the rules are written.

The proposal drew scorn during a different legislative committee earlier in the week from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), as the small business group sees this as a slippery slope that could force similar agreements on any business needing a state license.

During Thursday’s committee or leading up to it, the NFIB, Small Business Association of Michigan, Americans For Prosperity, Michigan Freedom Fund and the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA) have all made their opposition known.

Steve Linder, executive director for MCMA, wrote in his testimony that his members are “baffled as to why, three years into trying to get this industry up and running this is, all of a sudden, a problem? Where is the justification for it?”

Brisbo’s explanation to the committee was that given the existence of a robust illegal marijuana market in Michigan that’s been around before the state began licensing operations, any sort of labor stoppage could disrupt the industry and send customers back to the black market.

Linder, in an interview Thursday, didn’t buy that — he said it’s a solution in search of a problem and if there were a strike, it wouldn’t affect the entire industry — consumers could just go to another licensed business.

The Great Lakes Cannabis Chamber of Commerce also came out against the labor peace agreements provision — as well as other parts of the rules — saying that “Adding burdens such as forced unionization while removing certain public health and safety standards means longer wait times and bad product making it to market.”

The Michigan Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA) indicated Thursday its membership has “differing opinions on mandatory agreements of this nature” and so the organization is advocating making them optional.

Brisbo said the rules are still in draft form and subject to feedback, and a public hearing on them is expected early next year.

But when asked by Nesbitt about changing the peace agreement piece, Brisbo said he wouldn’t be committing to any specific changes in the draft rules.

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