Wayfair's Employee Walkout Is Another Example of Tech Workers Making Their Voices Heard
Photo Credit: BRAZIL - 2019/05/24: In this photo illustration the Wayfair logo is seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Wayfair's Employee Walkout Is Another Example of Tech Workers Making Their Voices Heard

Since the Trump administration came into power, the situation at the border has gotten steadily worse. Over the last year alone, thousands of children have been separated from their families and seven children have died in federal immigration custody. 

Although the people detained within these facilities are largely deprived of basics like food and adequate shelter, there are some businesses profiting off the concentration camps. Last week, employees at Wayfair — the online furniture seller —discovered that the company sold $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to the government contractor responsible for managing detention centers that hold migrant children at the border, BCFS, Slate reported.

In addition, Wayfair sold furniture to another BCFS site that was closed for health concerns, as reported by the Washington Post.

Over 500 employees signed a letter protesting the company as a result. The letter requested that Wayfair end all business with BCSF and any others involved in operating the facilities. In addition, employees wanted to establish a code of ethics for sales.

“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,” Wayfair employees wrote in their original letter, according to Slate. “We also want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting, or profiting from this practice.”

However, Wayfair refused.

In its response to their employees, Wayfair management said, according to Slate, “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. This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.”

Now, employees are planning to walk out of the company’s Boston headquarters on Wednesday afternoon. In a tweet, Wayfairwalkout wrote:

“This is a peaceful voluntary walkout & we encourage any Wayfairians to join us in what we hope is an action that continues the dialogue around this issue with leadership & shows our company & community that we oppose & reject the behavior of our government at the Southern Border.”

The employees’ decision to walk out has gained support across Twitter. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pointed out earlier this month that the migrant detention facilities are concentration camps, quoted tweeted the Wayfairwalkout account’s summary of events, writing:

“Wayfair workers couldn’t stomach they were making beds to cage children. They asked the company to stop. CEO said no. Tomorrow, they‘re walking out. This is what solidarity looks like – a reminder that everyday people have real power, as long as we’re brave enough to use it.”

Although Ocasio-Cortez’s referring to detention facilities as concentration camps sparked outrage in some, she was accurate in doing so.  Andrea Pitzer, historian and author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, defines concentration camps’ most critical characteristic as the “mass detention of civilians without trial.” That is what detention facilities ultimately are and why Wayfair’s employees speaking out is so significant.

When labor organizing comes to mind, people don’t automatically think of the tech industry. But, the Wayfair employees’ walkout is another notable example of employees at tech companies standing up to leadership and taking action on issues they see as important. A recent example of this 3,000 Google employees signed a petition calling on the company to back out of the Department of Defense’s Project Maven.

Regarding the drone AI contract, the letter stated, “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.” Eventually, Google pulled out of the contract.

Then in November 2018, Google employees walked out in protest of sexual harassment happening within the company. In April, Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittake, two employees involved in organizing the walkout came forward to say that Google had retaliated against them. Stapleton announced her resignation from Google in a Medium post earlier this month.

Organizing at your job can be extremely difficult. Workers can be subject to retaliation from the company and potential blacklisting from an entire industry. However, there is power in numbers. As workers continue to protest companies’ involvement with detention centers, it can help strengthen those who have yet to organize themselves.

Wayfair employees are also asking that the company donates all profits from the sale to the nonprofit RAICES, who works with families on the border. The organization’s official Twitter said of the walkout, “This takes courage.”

Wayfair’s management justification is based in saying detention facilities are operating within the law. As history shows, though, laws can be unjust. It may be within the written law for the United States government to establish these facilities along its border, where children are detained and dying, but it poses questions about the moral integrity of any company willing to profit off such atrocities.

Getting responses from a company can take more than a single action. Even if Wayfair’s walkout does not immediately make leadership reconsider their position, it’s possible that organizers will continue to plan next steps.