How Aurora keeps frontline employees safe during COVID-19

Aurora is one of Canada’s largest licensed cannabis producers and, like all of us, has had to make steep changes in order to keep workers safe and their greenhouses harvesting in the time of the deadly novel coronavirus. Quarantined in their homes, kind editor Ben Kaplan spoke with Dilek Dag, Aurora’s VP of manufacturing, on how the green thumbs keep providing Canadians with their essential service during these harrowing times.
  • BK: Dilek, how many people are you responsible for?

    DD: It’s complicated, but out of our larger facility workforce, between manufacturing and operations, there’s over 1,000 Canadian employees across the country, but they’re not all in a line reporting to me. We have eleven manufacturing and production facilities across the country.

  • BK: What do you do?

    DD: My area of focus is specific to manufacturing the end product. Anything post-harvest is how we add value.

  • BK: How do you grow your weed?

    DD: We have multiple grow facilities, hybrid greenhouses, and both indoor and outdoor grows. We have lots of innovative, different ways as to how are plants are harvested, depending on the facility, and then, of course, the plants are harvested, and the material is dried and packaged and we take samples, send them to the lab, and then it’s either bottled or distributed to our medical or recreational side, or turned into extracts for oils and anything from oral strips to soft gels to edibles.

  • BK: Quite an operation. Your edibles, especially now, have been a lifesaver.

    DD: Glad to hear that. I was very much involved in the launch of our edibles and producing the gummies and chocolates.

  • BK: What’s your favourite?

    DD: Our Blaspberry soft chews from the San Raf line. They’re all good, but that’s the one I love the most.

  • BK: How crazy have things gotten with COVID-19?

    DD: We actually began making adjustments back in February, thinking about the implications to our supply chain; where we get the raw materials, but always the first priority was making sure our people were safe. We were aware of the risk long before the lockdown or quarantine happened, and began making changes as soon as news about the disease spread. At first, it seemed a little heavy handed—it turned out to be absolutely the right call.

  • BK: What did you do?

    DD: We put in place measures to reduce the amount of people coming through our buildings, and those who could work from home immediately did. Our facilities became isolated to only the essential workforce and we switched shift schedules, so fewer people were in the buildings at the same time. The idea was to try and create maximum space.

  • BK: It’s awful what’s been happening at the slaughterhouses in Alberta, especially when you read about how it’s a minority, low-paid culture of workers mostly dying from the disease. To the credit of Big Cannabis, we have not heard the same thing from the cannabis harvesters.

    DD: Well, that is awful and we feel for them, of course. What we did was go through a process of identifying who was working in close proximity and anyone in close quarters was separated, right away. We also did something that I’m very proud of—we have implemented a special bonus increase to everyone’s hourly salary by $2 to show our appreciation of the people coming in day after day to make sure our facilities stayed running during this time. We wanted to keep our people compensated and safe.

  • BK: It’s no secret that the Canadian cannabis companies have been taking a hit on the stock market, but you actually raised workers wages during COVID-19?

    DD: I think it goes a long way toward showing our commitment to our employees and we’ve been tightly monitoring the morale of our people and implementing measures and keeping an open dialogue back and forth. We’re listening and refining what we’re doing and I think we’ve seen real positive dividends from these conversations.

  • BK: How huge of an undertaking were the changes you made?

    DD: We had to implement a lot of changes. The gummies and chocolates, for instance, those processes are manual, so we had to redesign the entire facility and space everyone out. We changed the floor paths and air locks and made sure there wasn’t any overcrowding. It was a lot, but it was the absolute right thing to do. The only thing.

  • BK: Did your level of production take a hit?

    DD: We’ve actually seen improvements!

  • BK: That’s incredible, but a cool example of what can happen when everyone works together.

    DD: What I want to say is I’m proud of our teams and our people for taking care of themselves and one another. It's not comfortable to wear protective gear and be social-distanced, but they're doing that and doing a great job and I’m proud of what we’ve done and will continue to do.

  • BK: Keep up the good work.

    DD: Thank you. We will.