Nikki Kateman: Representing Workers In NY’s Cannabis Industry

Nikki Kateman
Photo: Adelphi University

Nikki Kateman is with the statewide labor union Local 338, which represents those in NY’s cannabis industry. Nikki Kateman answered eight simple questions for NY Cannabis Insider’s ongoing series featuring people to know in the state’s marijuana marketplace.

What is your position and what do you/your company do in the cannabis space?
I’m the political and communications director of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW. We’re a statewide labor union that represents 13,000 working people, including those employed from seed to sale in New York’s cannabis industry. We are effectively the advocates for those working on the frontlines of the industry.

I was recently appointed to the State Cannabis Advisory Board, which is something I’m both incredibly honored and excited about.

How long have you worked in the cannabis space?
If you can believe it, I’ve been involved in the cannabis space (specifically around policy) in New York for over a decade.

What did you do before you were involved in the cannabis industry?
I had just been hired full-time in the Political & Communications Department at Local 338 around the time we started thinking about cannabis legalization and how workers in an emerging industry could and should be protected. Looking back, I guess most of my career so far has had some connection to the cannabis industry, although it only became a major focus of my work in the last few years.

What led you to the cannabis industry?
In a lot of ways, the cannabis industry found me. I wanted to work in the union movement because it combined a lot of causes and issues that mattered to me – social justice, economic justice, healthcare, and education. When Local 338 started advocating for medical and then subsequently adult-use cannabis legalization, it felt natural because it was an extension of fighting for all the things I was already fighting for in my role at the union.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into the NY weed industry?
There’s a lot of focus on ownership in the cannabis industry and that is incredibly important when we’re thinking about social equity and supporting communities that have been left behind to build generational wealth. However, there are lots of other pathways into the industry through ancillary businesses and of course, career opportunities. The great thing about the cannabis industry is there are so many ways to be innovative and indirectly involved, but still be successful and make a difference, both personally and for the larger community. I’d encourage someone looking to enter the space to explore all opportunities, because there are going to be thousands of them.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t add that I know people tend to get nervous when they hear they’re going to have to engage with a labor union. We are not only advocates, but also recognized stakeholders in New York’s cannabis industry – we care very deeply about the success of the industry, because it means the ability for people employed in the industry to also do well.

What do you think the NY cannabis ecosystem will look like in five years?
I am hopeful that New York will have a vibrant and diverse industry where there is opportunity and a role for everyone who finds this space interesting and exciting. I recognize that there will be some growing pains (no pun intended), but we’re fortunate to not only have passionate minds at the State, but also an engaged network of grassroots activists and industry players who want to help push the program in the right direction.