Workers at the flagship Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop in Burlington, Vermont, have launched a bid to unionize, saying that they lack a voice in workplace decisions.
The group formed a union organizing committee and petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold a vote on unionization. The workers are organizing with Workers United, the same union that launched the Starbucks Corp. organizing campaign.
The workers, known as scoopers, said they are looking for greater input on staffing, pay, health and safety issues. Workers currently aren’t represented on the Ben & Jerry’s independent board, and this would be the first union for retail Ben & Jerry’s workers, said Jaz Brisack, organizing director with Workers United Upstate New York and Vermont.
US efforts to unionize have dominated headlines in recent years as labor groups make inroads at companies such as Starbucks, Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. Even so, union membership across the country dropped to a record low last year, even as workers organized stoppages, showing the uphill struggle faced by unionizers.
The ice cream maker’s well-publicized values may bolster the unionizers’ argument. Ben & Jerry’s operates under a three-part mission: sustainable financial growth, product quality and creating prosperity for everyone that’s connected to the business — including workers.
“We’re a company that stands for social justice rights and equity, and I want to ensure that this message is translated to all levels of employment,” Rebeka Mendelsohn, a two-year shift manager, said in a statement. “A union will allow scoopers to enact agency over their work environments and make room for cooperative collaboration between all.”
Representatives for Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever Plc, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. On its website, the maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Dove soap says it respects employees’ rights to form and join and a legally recognized union of their choice. Around 80% of its total workforce and 89% of its manufacturing employees are covered by independent trade unions or collective bargaining agreements, according to the company.
Unilever and the Ben & Jerry’s independent board, which sets the ice cream brand’s social mission, settled a public spat late last year after the parent company overruled the board’s decision to stop selling Ben & Jerry’s products in the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel. The agreement was kept confidential — signaling that the two sides will try to work through future disputes in private.