As promised, employees at Wayfair’s corporate headquarters in Boston staged a walkout Wednesday over the company’s sale of about $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to the global nonprofit BCFS (Baptist Children and Family Services), headquartered in San Antonio.
About 550 employees out of about 6000 working at the Boston offices signed a protest letter sent to the company’s leadership team last week, asking them to abort the sale The furniture is destined for a detention camp in Carrizo Springs, Texas that is expected to have capacity for 3,000 children writes The Daily Beast.
The employees took issue with a 2018 New York Times report that BCFS “has received at least $179 million in federal contracts since 2015 under the government’s so-called unaccompanied alien children program, designed to handle migrant youths who arrive in the country without a parent or other family member.”
Another facility operated by BCFS, in Tornillo, Texas, open from June 2018 to January 2019, housing nearly 3,000 migrant children. The facility became the focus of protests, detailed in The Texas Tribune.
Moving forward, employees have asked Wayfair to establish a code of ethics that "empowers Wayfair and its employees to act in accordance with our core values."
"The United States government and its contractors are responsible for the detention and mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in our country — we want that to end," the employees said in the letter. "We also want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting, or profiting from this practice."
The Wayfair leadership team responded saying: "As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers and we believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate," then adding “This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us."
Corporate employees set up a Twitter account @wayfairwalkout, pledging “no aid to juvenile incarceration”. One worker communicated to CNN in advance of Wednesday’s action that the walkout is "not meant as a censure on Wayfair," but as a way to show workers' continued concern.
Employees asked Wayfair to donate all profits made on the sale to BCFS — estimated about $86.000 — to RAICES, probably the most prominent and active nonprofit reuniting families at the border. Leadership refused but has announced donating $100,000 to the Red Cross.
Wayfair employees acknowledged the $100,000 donation to the Red Cross, but insist that the corporation also support RAICES Texas, for specifically pushing back on the U.S. migrant detention policy, writes Boston Magazine. “I think it’s a good start,” says Kayla Smith, who says she’s been at the company for a year, “but we can do more.”
Non-employees and associates from Square, a mobile payment company, also turned out to greet the workers when they arrived at Copley. “We cannot allow people to suffer in concentration camps that are for profit. It’s inhumane” says Eli Albert, who showed up carrying a cardboard sign reading, “End Business with Concentration Camps.” Boston Magazine cited some protesters bringing their children with them to participate. “My mom told me about concentration camps,” says Ezra Beck, 7. “Kids shouldn’t be held in them.”
The walkout drew widespread media attention, giving Wayfair employees a wide range to express themselves. Engineer Tom Brown expressed gratitude that “the outcry of support from everyone, from people to politicians to organizations has been overwhelming.” He continued: “We hire the best people. We’re looking for the best and the brightest, and those just so happen to be the people that care the most. These are the people that we know will fight for what’s right even if it’s a difficult conversation right now.”
Wayfair product manager Madeline Howard led an hour-long rally that included speeches by union members, ACLU advocates and immigrants’ rights groups. The Daily Beast quotes an unnamed consultant from India working at Wayfair for five years who fears reprisals but said: “It only seems ethical not to support these detention camps,” he said. “We don’t want the detention camps in any way and endorsing them is against our values.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, called the walkout "what solidarity looks like."
Baptist Children and Family Services responded to the walkout with a statement that said: “We believe youth should sleep in beds with mattresses.”
The New York Times weighed in Wednesday night, saying that Wayfair isn’t the focus of a national boycott at this point, unlike Bank of America, After being targeted for providing financing to Caliburn International, the parent company of the Homestead facility for minors in Florida as “the only big bank profiting from family separation”, Bank America announced Wednesday that it would sever its relationship with all private prison companies.
“The private sector is attempting to respond to public policy and government needs and demands in the absence of longstanding and widely recognized reforms needed in criminal justice and immigration policies,” Jessica Oppenheim, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, said in an email to The New York Times. “We have been discussing this topic for some time.”
Two other banks, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan, said they would end their relationships with the private prison industry in March.
“As we’re learning more about the horrific conditions in the Trump-era detention centers, things are ratcheting up, and people are looking for more ways to express that frustration,” said Shannon Coulter, a founder of the #GrabYourWallet campaign.