Several hundred Wayfair employees walked off work on Wednesday to protest the company’s sale of furniture to a new detention center in Texas intended for detained migrant children.
Employees and supporters filled Boston’s Copley Square, near the company’s corporate headquarters, shortly after 1:00 p.m. local time.
Just before the walkout, Wayfair’s founder offered to donate $100,000 to the Red Cross “to help those in dire need of basic necessities at the border,” the Boston Globe reported. But that fell short of what employees wanted—an end to doing business with companies involved in the migrant holding facilities and a donation of the reported $86,000 profit from the sale to Raices, a legal services nonprofit that works with immigrants.
Workers organized last week when they caught wind of a sale to a government contractor, according to one of the employee organizers of the walkout who requested anonymity. Wayfair sold about $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to BCFS, a nonprofit government contractor, for use in a 3,000-person detention camp in Carrizo Springs, Texas. BCFS also operated a now-shuttered tent city in Tornillo, Texas, until early this year.
After discovering the sale, more than 500 workers wrote to Wayfair management asking them to stop doing business with BCFS. “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. We also want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting, or profiting from this practice,” reads their letter, posted on Twitter.
Wayfair executives reportedly declined the request to drop BCFS. “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,” the company wrote, according to an unsigned letter posted on Twitter. The unsigned letter added that selling to a group “does not indicate support for the opinions or actions” of that customer.
“That was disappointing,” the employee told CBS News. An in-person meeting with Wayfair’ CEO Niraj Shah and several hundred workers on Tuesday failed to produce a solution, the person said. Following the meeting, a group of workers decided to call for a walkout Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Tweeting under the handle @WayfairWalkout, the group had amassed 20,000 followers by Wednesday morning.
Wayfair has 12,000 employees across the U.S., of which about 7,000 work at the company’s Boston headquarters. The company did not reply to a request for comment.
BCFS, the contractor, confirmed the sale of the furniture to CBS News.
“We believe youth should sleep in beds with mattresses,” a spokesperson said via text message. In 2018, BCFS operated a “tent city” for unaccompanied minors in Tornillo, Texas, but was at times openly critical of the federal government’s decision to open the facility. One senior administrator called it “a dumb, stupid idea” during a press tour. In December, BCFS announced that it would not renew its contract to operate the facility, which was closed soon after. The organization’s main line of work is providing emergency management services.
The organization once again finds itself in the spotlight as it prepares to operate another new large-scale facility for unaccompanied migrant children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defended the company and the Carrizo Springs facility in a statement to CBS News.
“BCFS stands ready to provide care for children as HHS plans to start placing children at Carrizo Springs as soon as conditions are safe,” the agency said. “The site was formerly used as a lodging facility, and is currently under remediation for matters such as air conditioner maintenance, mold spots, and pipeline work.”
The site will house 1,300 children in facilities typically rented out for employees of oil field companies. A website for the company that owns the facilities describes it as a “man camp.”
Word of a walkout spread quickly on social media, and drawn praise from a number of progressive politicians including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said, “This is what solidarity looks like.”
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey tweeted, “I’m with the Wayfair workers 100%.”
The company will earn $86,000 from its sale to BCFS, according to the employees’ Twitter account, which demands that the money be donated to Raices,
Some on Twitter chimed in with calls to boycott Wayfair. “Well this means Wayfair will never have what I need,” said one Twitter account. “I work too hard to give my money to a business that acts immorally.”
“Whether or not to abuse children isn’t a difference of opinion, it’s a moral choice. No more business from me until you stop supporting this,” said another Tweeter.
Other accounts taunted the protesters, suggesting they should be fired or that they should donate their salaries to Raices, “not ask the company to suffer.”
“We don’t really know how many people will walk out today,” the Wayfair worker told CBS News. “A lot of people decided this issue was more important than the possibility of losing their job.”