Ben & Jerry's Union Agreement Sets Major Precedent For National Brands

Employees at Ben & Jerry's flagship Scoop Shop in Burlington, Vermont took an important step towards unionization on April 28, after the notoriously progressive ice cream company's management signed an agreement approving rules for a union election to proceed. According to Restaurant Dive, the push among workers to form the proposed Scoopers United union, which has garnered the support of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, began in the summer of 2022 after two individuals overdosed in the store's bathroom. No managers were present at the time of the incidents, leaving under-trained employees to call emergency services, dispose of hazardous needles, and tend to the individuals who had overdosed without the presence of the overdose-combating drug Narcan.

The push for safer conditions and higher pay led the employees to seek unionization, a movement that has been growing within the food service industry, with Starbucks being one of the larger targets of unionization efforts. Unlike Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's did not fight the effort. While initial requests for raises were denied, faced with the united front of store employees pushing for unionization, the store's corporate management signed the agreement to allow elections, just two weeks after 39 of the store's 40 employees signed union cards.

Commitment to Fair Election Principles

Workers United is touting the agreement as a step forward for the food service unionization efforts across the board, as Ben & Jerry's is one of the first national brands to sign what it calls the "Fair Election Principles." The Principles, which were shared on Twitter by Scoopers United, include pledges that workers will face no threats or negative repercussions from voting to unionize, and that pro-union messaging and meetings will be given equal time and space as anti-union messaging and management meetings. 

Rebekah Mendelsohn, one of the organizers of the Burlington Ben & Jerry's push, told Restaurant Dive, "It's absolutely a launching point for campaigns against Starbucks, and Trader Joe's, and REI to be able to reference that Ben & Jerry's have made this decision."

Bernie Sanders meanwhile, saw the deal as a good sign for Vermont, telling NBC, "I'm very proud that we have here in Vermont a company like Ben & Jerry's that has long stood for progressive principles, saying they're willing to sit down and negotiate a good contract with their workers."

While the Vermont store is one of only two corporate-owned Ben & Jerry's locations, the move has reportedly inspired other nearby businesses to begin their own unionization efforts and could spread to franchised Ben & Jerry's stores. In a statement to Restaurant Dive, Ben & Jerry's management said the signing "should be regarded as a step in solidarity in the spirit of constant improvement towards a fair, inclusive, and equitable workplace."