Union Crunch


Ben & Jerry's, the ice cream company, has always prided itself on its lefty bona fides and its devotion to progressive causes. Hence, products such as Peace Pops (part of the profits from which were given to peace groups) and Rainforest Crunch (made with nuts from small agricultural cooperatives in Brazil). The company also offers employees paid family leaves and up to three free pints of ice cream daily.

Lately, however, Ben & Jerry's has been in the news for trying to freeze out union organizers at its St. Albans, Vermont, plant. In fact, the purveyors of a self-styled "caring capitalism" apparently don't care much for unions. Last year, when the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers tried to organize 19 maintenance workers, management insisted that all of the non-unionized plant's 150 laborers should be allowed to vote on the matter. The IBEW charged that such a move was a transparent attempt to "dilute the vote" and filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, which agreed with the union. In January, the maintenance workers voted 11-8 in favor of the IBEW, becoming the first union employees in the company's 20-year history.

So don't expect a "Union Crunch" flavor to join the ranks of Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey anytime soon. This isn't the first time the company has had a public relations meltdown tied to its professed ideals. A few years back, founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield held a highly publicized write-in contest to select a new CEO, which they ultimately abandoned in favor of using a corporate headhunting firm. To make matters worse, to cinch that hire, they broke their rule of never paying the highest-compensated employee more than seven times the wage of the lowest.