Florida Cannabis Giant Faces Backlash After New Layoffs: Community Outrage And A Corporate Need To Adapt

Only a few days ago, Florida-based cannabis operator Trulieve TCNNF fired an unknown number of employees at a customer call center in Clearwater.

The new round of layoffs came on the heels of a Truelieve donation of an extra $5.5 million to a cannabis legalization initiative underway in the Sunshine State. To date, Trulieve has donated a total of $25.5 million to the Smart & Safe Florida campaign, which is seeking to place the legalization bill on the November 2024 ballot, writes Orlando Weekly.

What happened at the call center?

According to Kelli Heist, a former senior customer service agent and trainer, Trulieve suddenly began suspending its internal training classes and asking employees to work from home while new training materials were being created, reported Tallahassee Democrat. This was the first hint that something was wrong. Heist was fired a few weeks later. 

“I had a feeling something was up when they fired the call center manager that was there when I was hired and brought in this new team,” Heist told the outlet. “Right away, I got a feeling just by this new manager’s demeanor, he was there to shut the place down.”

In addition, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court against the company this past December. The suit alleged that Trulieve is liable under the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) of 1988 for failing to provide the plaintiffs and other similarly situated former employees at least 60 days advance notice of their terminations.

According to WCTV, the suit claimed a number of workers were fired “without cause on or about November 29.” Shortly after, however, the lawsuit was voluntarily withdrawn, Trulieve told Benzinga.

Trulieve Responds

Benzinga reached out to Trulieve for comments on the recent layoffs, and the company’s executive director of corporate communications, Robert Kremer told us that the company had to incorporate some changes to provide better service to its customers.

“As we have grown from a single state to becoming a national organization, it’s required changes in how we serve our customers across the country,” Kremer told Benzinga. “We’ve made the decision to reorganize from a national call center to one that is state specific. So, our facility in Clearwater now only handles Florida-based calls. This change allows the customer to speak with someone who lives in their state and has a better understanding on local regulations, products and locations.”

Kremer explained that as the industry and environment change, businesses need adjust in order to survive, and stay loyal to their customers. “As the market environment changes, we must adapt. We regularly evaluate and refine our business operations to become more efficient. Trulieve will continue to hire and invest in other areas of the business, such as the Smart Safe initiative, as we look towards the future.”

As for the recently laid-off workers, Kremer explained that they were offered transfers to new positions or severance packages. “We offered impacted employee’s opportunities to apply for open positions. Where transfers were not feasible or accepted, they were offered severance packages. Trulieve currently employs approximately 7,000 people across the country and continues to hire for new positions in other areas of the business.”

Community Rage On Social Media

The layoffs triggered outrage among Trulieve employees and others on social media platforms.

A post from Mike Crawford noted that Trulieve fired around 50 people, including “supervisors, lead and quality assurance....So much for their spoke and hub strategy. How can we be worse? Let’s start by firing people.”

Others focused on the contradiction of the company's financial support for Florida's legalization initiative and the sacking of cannabis-related workers.

A Reddit post laid into the company: “So you're telling me they're willing to pay petitioners to gather signatures at Wawa, but couldn't find a more appropriate way to 'downsize'? After just facing major blowback over the last wave of layoffs at the grow facilities? How are you downsizing if you have a $5M monthly budget towards a legalization bill with virtually ZERO industry support? Sounds like money well wasted. Won't legalization in FL require, IDK, committed employees to help facilitate your vision? They're banking on legalization, and if that fails, they're banking on chapter 7 bankruptcy. They're over 1B in debt, while still filing motions to delay the last lawsuit over layoffs in December! D**ks.”

Others were even harsher: “I personally hope they crash and burn and someone else takes over the license” and “Trulieve is corrupt to the core and them going bankrupt would be a good thing.”

“I agree all of these companies act unethically and it’s pointless to get too hung up on that as a customer, but it seems like TL’s service gets worse with each round of layoffs, so it does impact patients. I also don’t think it hurts to let the community know how much it sucks to work at these places so they can’t keep taking advantage of people that are excited about working in cannabis. If TL paid employees more and didn’t have so much turnover, they’d definitely have better products and service,” wrote another Reddit user.

Lay Offs Are Happening Across The Industry

The cannabis industry has been facing a lot of layoffs recently, and Trulieve is not the only company initiating downsizing efforts.

  • Aleafia Health ALEAF revealed via its February-released earnings that it had to let go 20% of its workers.

  • SNDL Inc. SNDL has initiated a headcount reduction of approximately 85 employees at the Olds, Alberta facility as a part of a larger phased cost savings program that is expected to deliver close to $9 million in savings across labor and operational costs.

  • Canopy Growth Corporation CGC intends to close its 1 Hershey Drive facility in Smiths Falls, Ontario, in addition to reducing headcount across the business by approximately 60%.

  • Tilray Brands TLRY announced in January, it will lay off 49 employees at medical cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Cantanhede, Portugal.

  • Clever Leaves CLVR recently confirmed the wind-down of all operations in Portugal as part of its ongoing restructuring initiatives, under which it had to lay off 63 employees.

  • Columbia Care Inc  CCHWF is laying off numerous workers at its Saxton facility, per data from the Department of Labor & Industry; 73 employees will be let go effective February 28.

  • LeafLink, an online wholesale cannabis platform, laid off 80 workers on December 15th.

  • WM Technology Inc. MAPS cut 25% of its workforce, amounting to 175 employees.

Why Does Trulieve Infuriate People So Much?

It is clear that there is a downsizing trend across the industry and across the country. But Trulieve seems to bear the brunt of a certain amount of collective anger. Why?

One reason for the targetted outrage could be what one Reddit user mentioned: the company is spending huge sums to support legalization in Florida where it has already established itself as a leader in the medical marijuana space while downsizing its operations.

Then there's Lorna McMurrey who died while working at a Trulieve facility last year. 

report filed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stated that the night of Jan. 7, 2022, McMurrey, 27, complained that she couldn't breathe presumably due to the cannabis kief (cannabis dust) in the air where she was grinding and packaging prerolls. She was taken to a local hospital where she died shortly thereafter.

Both McMurrey's family and co-workers spoke to the press about the case, after which Trulieve finally came out with an official statement disputing some of the reported details. The statement came about a week after McMurrey’s family spoke to a local NBC station wherein they said Lorna smoked cannabis from time to time, but had never been afflicted by asthma until she started working Trulieve. Her mother confirmed another incident that occurred two months before Lorna's death, in which they realized she was developing asthma.

Danny Carson, McMurrey’s former supervisor denied Trulieve’s statement that the workers had protective equipment available to them. He said the masks at their disposal were for COVID prevention and were not respiratory masks made especially for industrial jobs and the type of work being done at the facility.

Carson said there were problems in the company's corporate culture and workers in lower positions were afraid to speak up, even about issues concerning their own safety. 

“I was screamed at by my boss and told to stay in my lane when I caught someone stealing cannabis product from the facility,” he said. That was when he quit the job. 

When asked if he signed a non-disclosure agreement preventing employees from speaking publicly about delicate matters, Carson said that he might have, but...“they killed my friend.”

Then, after nearly two months, Trulieve entered into a voluntary agreement with OSHA that will result in additional health and safety protections for the company’s workers at its cannabis manufacturing facilities. Under the agreement, Trulieve will undertake a study to determine whether ground cannabis dust is required to be classified as a "hazardous chemical" in the occupational setting, according to OSHA regulations. Work on the study is to be completed by May 29, 2023.

To make things even more disturbing, McMurrey’s tragic death may have remained unknown had Carson not brought the story to public attention. Even though federal OSHA investigators examined the facility four days after her passing, the report on the case was not published for nearly six months, writes Leafly.

This was strange and contrary to OSHA’s normal practice. “In fact, the agency pushes out 15 to 30 releases every month,” writes the outlet. “In June and July 2022, it notified the public about cases involving the death of a roofing contractor in Houston; a fatal fall at a frozen food factory in New Jersey; finger amputations at a pillow factory in Georgia; and a drowning death at a golf course pond in Florida.”

But there was no press release about the death of a Trulieve employee. What’s more, the Cannabis Control Commission has not issued a public statement on the incident or warned the industry workers about the potential health risks involved with marijuana dust. 

Last year’s incident could indeed be one of the reasons why Trulieve has become the target of community outrage on social media though it is not the only industry operator to lay off workers. Is this fair? Will Trulieve attempt to clear its name? Time will tell.

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