BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Global ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's said Tuesday it supports a plan to unionize by the workers at a retail shop in the same city where the brand, known as much for its social activism as its products, was founded.
Ben & Jerry's said, in a statement, it shares "the goal of advancing justice, both inside and outside our company." The ice cream manufacturer was founded in a former gas station a short distance from its retail shop in downtown Burlington, Vermont.
"That's why we recognize and support the rights of all workers to unionize and collectively bargain," the company said. "Ben & Jerry's is committed to the goal of operating our company in a way that is fair, inclusive, and equitable, while being a dynamic and fun place for all workers."
About 40 employees at the Burlington shop said Monday they had formed an organizing committee and petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election. They said they have the support of the upstate New York & Vermont chapter of Workers United , the union that started the Starbucks unionization campaign in Buffalo, New York.
"I think the statement is a great sign," Workers United organizing director Jaz Brisack, who covers upstate New York and Vermont, said Tuesday after seeing Ben & Jerry's statement.
Brisack said they were hopeful Ben & Jerry's would partner with the workers in forming the union.
A union organizer who works at the Ben & Jerry's store in downtown Burlington, Vermont, said most of the workers are local college or high school students and don't know how to advocate for themselves and she felt they didn't realize they were being exploited.
"I wouldn't say that was necessarily (the) intention of management by any means, but it's definitely a consequence of just working with a younger staff and not knowing how to advocate for them appropriately," said Rebeka Mendelsohn, 22, a senior at the University of Vermont.
The Acton, Massachusetts, native likes working at the ice cream shop near where Ben & Jerry's was founded. One issue she wants addressed is training to help the staff cope with customers' mental health crises and respond to other critical incidents when managers aren't around.
The so-called scoopers submitted the petition needed to hold a union election to the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. Brisack hoped the election would be held soon.
Mendelsohn said she would support union efforts at other Ben & Jerry's locations, especially the factory and retail shop in Waterbury, Vermont.
"I would love to see all Vermont Ben and Jerry's unionized, if not far beyond that," she said. "I definitely hope that this can be a catalyst event because I think it's a really logical next step and being like a socially conscious company."
The company says its products are distributed in 35 countries.
Founded in 1978, but currently owned by consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, Ben & Jerry's has not shied away from social causes. While many businesses tread lightly in politics for fear of alienating customers, the ice cream maker, which sells its products across the world, has taken the opposite approach, often espousing progressive causes.