One week after the Athens-Clarke County commission approved an agreement with Wayfair to bring more than 500 jobs to Athens, the company’s employees at its Boston headquarters announced a walkout. The move came on June 25 after employees learned about a $200,000 order of bedroom furniture being sold to a firm that operates camps for migrant children at the southern U.S. border.
An estimated 1,600 mattresses and 100 bunk beds were purchased by Baptist Child and Family Services, a nonprofit federal contractor that manages camps at the border. BCFS placed the order on June 13 for its facility that can hold up to 1,600 migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
On June 26, Wayfair employees walked out of the headquarters to protest. More than 500 employees had signed a letter sent to Wayfair’s leadership asking that they stop doing business with facilities that house migrant children.
Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz said he is glad Wayfair employees declared solidarity with the refugees, because “nobody should profit from human misery.”
“I'm angered and saddened at the human rights violations underway at our border,” Girtz said. “As someone who has worked my entire adult life for dignity and opportunity for children, this represents the opposite of what I would hope to see anywhere on earth.”
In terms of what this may mean for future Wayfair activity, Girtz doesn’t know, saying only that he wants “everyone to demand that our federal authorities operate with basic human decency.”
The Wayfair customer support facility in Athens includes an investment of more than $8 million for a 45,050 square foot space in General Time, a development off Newton Bridge Road.
On June 18, the ACC commission approved an agreement to pay Wayfair up to $50,000 over a three year period at the rate of $100 for each new full-time job created by the company.
District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link said she is heartened to see Boston's Wayfair employees embrace labor organizing and hopes the spirit of solidarity will take hold in their Athens facility.
“The location Wayfair has chosen for its Athens facility is in close proximity to low-income and working-class neighborhoods with a large Latinx population,” Link said in an email. “This facility will undoubtedly provide fair wage employment to members of many local immigrant families, allowing these valued members of our community a greater opportunity to achieve the American dream.”
Tim Denson, District 5 commissioner, shared a similar sentiment.
“I have joined the call with Wayfair workers in asking that Wayfair agree to the very practical demand of donating the profits from this sale to advocacy groups who are working to free these children and put in place compassionate immigration policies,” Denson said in an email.
Wayfair co-founders Steve Conine and Niraj Shah responded to the letter from employees and announced they will be donating $100,000 to the Red Cross, but protest organizers questioned why the recipient should be the Red Cross, rather than another nonprofit that focuses on immigration.
Beto Mendoza, co-founder of the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition, a group of Athens organizations that focus on justice for immigrants regardless of legal status, said he looks at the bigger picture when it comes to immigrants in Athens.
“A bigger problem with Athens-Clarke County is not that they will have a company that provides 500 jobs for people and does business with migrant centers,” Mendoza said. “Migrant communities in Athens have asked Athens to stop arresting people without drivers license.”