Ben & Jerry’s may be the first large U.S. corporation to ever agree to follow fair election principles for unionization that are more stringent than federal protections require. Employees at the company’s flagship scoop shop in downtown Burlington said Friday that the agreement is an important step toward unionizing the store.
The fair election principles are essentially a code of corporate conduct. By signing them, Ben & Jerry’s recognizes that forming a union is a fundamental civil right and that every worker who wants to join one can do so without being harassed or intimidated.
“The National Labor (Relations) Board affords us some rights as unionizing communities, but in general, this would go far beyond what is typically given to people,” shift manager and catering lead Rebeka Mendelsohn said. “They are the first larger company to do so. It’s really impressive that they’ve done this today, and I really think they’re setting a new standard.”
Mendelsohn signed the principles earlier this month on behalf of Scoopers United. They aim to make the Church Street Marketplace scoop shop into Ben & Jerry’s very first store to unionize. Workers have cited pay issues, as well as health and safety concerns such as drug use in the store’s bathroom.
“I would love — and I believe that we’re really close to this — to be able to use Ben & Jerry’s as a model,” she said. “To kind of show Starbucks or Trader Joe’s or REI or other companies right now being faced with unions the correct way, and really the right way, to do this.”
Ben & Jerry’s appears to have similar desires, if part of a statement from the company to Scoopers United is any indication.
“We hope that this can serve as a model for collaboration in the workplace and in the future,” Mendelsohn said as she read the statement aloud. “The scoopers have shown that they are interested in our future together.”
Starbucks employees who work on Shelburne Road in South Burlington voted to unionize last year but don’t yet have a contract. One of them said on Friday that the coffee giant walked out of a bargaining session for the store after just seven minutes.
“Inequality is higher than it’s been for decades, with skyrocketing prices and stagnant real wages coinciding with ever-increasing profits for the rich and powerful,” barista Adam Franz of Starbucks Workers United said. “However, across the nation, workers have not taken this challenge lying down.”
Starbucks founder and former CEO Howard Schultz testified in late March before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He appeared under threat of a subpoena from the committee chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Vermont’s senior senator was not available Friday for a one-on-one interview. However, he said he’s proud Ben & Jerry’s is taking a different approach.
“From way back when, when they first had their first shop on St. Paul (Street) in an old gas station, they have been determined to spread the gospel of social justice,” he said. “And I’m very proud of the work that these workers have done to come together to form a union.”
Mendelsohn said Scoopers United hopes to formally vote on forming a union within the next week. She added that she’d love to see a contract in place within the next two months.