BOSTON — Ben & Jerry's, the offbeat Vermont ice cream maker known for its caring capitalism and wacky product names, is fighting the efforts of some of its employees to unionize.
In a National Labor Relations Board hearing Tuesday, Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. employees sought permission to organize 19 maintenance workers at the company's plant in St. Albans, Vt.
Company lawyers argued the union vote should be held among all plant workers, not just the maintenance employees.
Lee Holden, a Ben & Jerry's spokesman, said none of the company's 800 employees are members of a union, but he wouldn't say if the company would rather not have a union.
"All of our employees have traditionally worked together as a fully integrated team at each site and we feel all the employees at the St. Albans site have the right to decide to join a union by secret ballot," Holden said.
Most of the 19 maintenance workers at St. Albans have signed cards showing support for a union, according to Tim Watkins, business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 300, which is leading the organizing drive.
But production workers, who make up most of the plant's work force, don't support the union as strongly, he said.
Watkins said he was surprised the company was challenging the organizing drive.
"I attempted to ask for voluntary recognition [of the union], knowing how socially responsible they are," Watkins said last week. "They refused to do that."
Founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in a gas station 20 years ago, the company boasts of worker-friendly policies that include paid family leave and three free pints daily of products such as Phish Food, Cherry Garcia and Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz ice cream.
The company gives 7.5% of its pretax profit to charity and allows employees to buy Ben & Jerry's stock at 15% below market price. The stock rose 6 cents to close at $18.94 Tuesday on Nasdaq.
It also funds Ben & Jerry's Foundation, which seeks to promote social change by supporting organizations that empower people.