Employees At The First-Ever Ben & Jerry's Have Voted To Unionize

I scream, you scream, we all scream for fair labor practices. On Tuesday, May 30, employees at the flagship Ben & Jerry's store in Burlington, Vermont won their petition to unionize. According to local Vermont news outlet WCAX, the union was recognized immediately by parent company Unilever. The Burlington Ben & Jerry's now joins Workers United, a name you might recognize from Starbucks Workers United, a part of Service Employees International United (SEIU).

Back in April, on the Ben & Jerry's annual Free Cone Day, management took the tip jar off the counter. Shortly thereafter, workers sent a letter to co-founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen announcing, "Collectively, we have come to embody Ben and Jerry's slogan of 'peace, love, and ice cream,'" via The Washington Post. "Forming a union will ensure that present and future scoopers have irrefutable rights." This led to employees of the flagship store officially filing to unionize, with all 37 scoopers unanimously voting in favor of the effort.

Now, the organizing employees have expressed that they're interested in paving the way for other businesses near their location on Church Street that might also be hungry for a labor revolution. As local tourism site Love Burlington puts it, "At the heart of the city is the Church Street Marketplace," an outdoor pedestrian mall that attracts roughly two million visitors every year. It boasts a variety of over 100 small and larger-scale businesses, from the locally-owned Crow Book Shop to multinational Lululemon and Urban Outfitters.

Preserving the mission statement by whatever means necessary

The fact that Ben & Jerry's employees have unionized might seem a little puzzling considering the company's long and outspoken history of political activism centered around workers' rights and the U.S. labor revolution at large. But, unlike the high-profile unionization saga of fellow SEIU member Starbucks, this push may be motivated less by defiance of management than as a way to ensure that Ben & Jerry's message remains preserved in the workplace. Other than the tip jar incident, say employees, the main issue has been increasing tasks without proportionally increasing wages. "I think of this union as a sign of respect for Ben & Jerry's," says shift manager Rebeka Mendelsohn in a statement, via the Associated Press. "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." 

Greenfield and Cohen have championed inclusive hiring practices with the brownies they've been sourcing from equal opportunity employer Greyston Bakery since the 1980s. The company's website even has an entire page dedicated to activism and the social justice causes it supports, and the co-founders personally scooped ice cream at a rally for the 2020 presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, a career-long fair labor advocate with the ferocity and devotion of a rabid dog, especially for low-wage workers. Now, it looks like all that's left for the company to do is get underway drafting a new labor contract.