Wayfair workers walk out to protest company's furniture sale to migrant detention center

After the company announced it would continue supplying furniture to detention centers despite internal protests, workers walked off the job Wednesday.
Image: Wayfair Employees Protest Sale Of Beds To Migrant Detention Centers For Children
Wayfair employees stage a walkout in protest of the company's bed sales to migrant camps in Boston on June 26, 2019.Scott Eisen / Getty Images

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By Ben Kesslen

Hundreds of employees at the online furniture company Wayfair walked off their jobs Wednesday to protest the company's decision to supply furniture to migrant detention centers.

The walkout was the culmination of a week of back and forth between some employees and the company leadership.

Around 550 employees sent a letter to Wayfair last week stating their demands, chief among them: the end of operations that furnish detention centers. In response, Wayfair said it would not cease doing business with detention centers, citing the importance of “intellectual diversity.”

Wayfair workers descended on Boston’s Copley Square at 1:30 p.m. chanting, "This is what democracy looks like" and "Hey Hey Ho Ho, ICE contracts have got to go."

The protesters are demanding the company stop furnishing detention centers, create a stricter ethical code, and donate the alleged $86,000 of profits it made from the recent detention center sale to RAICES, an immigrant justice nonprofit.

Wayfair told NBC News on Wednesday that it is donating "$100,000 to support the American Red Cross in their effort to help those in dire need of basic necessities at the border" and that it respects "the passion of all our employees."

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The employees, organized under a newly formed group called Wayfair Walkout, drew widespread support on the internet from prominent politicians such as presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and from many Wayfair customers, who took to social media to swear off shopping at the furniture giant until the company rectified what they see as aiding a grave injustice.

Locals unaffiliated with Wayfair also joined the walkout to show their support for the protesting employees.

Nakhie Faynshteyn, 25, was among them.

An organizer with Boston’s Sunrise Movement chapter, a national organizing group that works to stop climate change, Faynshteyn told NBC News he joined the protest because he sees climate justice as an issue bound up with immigrant justice.

“We have people coming to our country fleeing the effects of violence and fleeing the effects of climate change” he said, adding that as a Jew and a first-generation immigrant from Ukraine, he sees the crisis on the southern border as “connected to the collective history” of his own people.

DoneGood, an e-commerce shopping platform that only sources sustainable brands that empower workers, said it would donate all its profits Wednesday to RAICES.

“We agree with Wayfair workers that it's wrong for companies to seek to profit from a system that is taking children from families and keeping them in inhumane conditions,” the company’s founder, Cullen Schwarz, told NBC News.

According to the Press Herald, workers at Wayfair’s Brunswick, Maine, offices are also gathering to protest the company’s decision to furnish detention centers.

The Trump campaign responded to the walkout Tuesday, tweeting “To keep migrants comfortable while Democrats in Congress dither on humanitarian aid, the Trump Admin bought bedroom furniture from Wayfair.”

On Tuesday, the company hosted a town hall at which workers could voice their concerns and discuss the controversies, multiple Wayfair employees told NBC News. Organizers of the walkout say they hope to continue the dialogue with Wayfair’s leadership.

Kelcey Henderson and Rima Abdelkader contributed.