ELKTON, VA. -- Officials of Adolph Coors Co., in Virginia to dedicate their Rockingham County plant, said last week that they believe unions are not needed but nevertheless are free to try to organize Coors employes.

Golden, Colo.-based Coors, whose resistance to organizing efforts in Colorado prompted a bitter 10-year boycott, reached an agreement with the AFL-CIO in August to allow a union election at the Elkton plant.

In an interview after the dedication, Coors President Jeffrey H. Coors said unions "are free to organize our plant if they can.

"The unions agree that we can continue to play our role in advocating a union-free environment at our company," he said. "We have and we will continue to tell our employes it's not necessary to have a union."

William K. Coors, grandson of the company's founder and now its chairman, pointed to the company's 2 percent turnover rate as evidence that workers are happy. "Our average production and maintenance employe is working for us for 50 years," he said.

Jeffrey Coors and other officials said they hope the Elkton plant will help the company become one of the top three brewers in the nation.

Coors now ranks behind Anheuser-Busch Cos., Miller Brewing, Stroh Brewery Co. and G. Heileman Brewing Co., but Jeffrey Coors said Heileman and Stroh's are losing ground. He predicted that his company, which will produce 16 million barrels of beer this year, could overtake Stroh's in a few years.

Although the Elkton plant has been in operation since March, last week's festivities marked the formal dedication of the first phase of construction -- a $95 million blending, finishing and packaging operation. The first phase can handle 2.5 million barrels of beer a year, and an expansion of the packaging operation is scheduled to be completed early next year.

Long-range plans call for construction of a brewery at a cost of $250 million to $300 million, but Jeffrey Coors said the beer market is currently flat and that the brewery probably won't be built for at least several years.