Wayfair staff strike over migrant centers contract

Boston (AFP) –


Employees of American online furniture store Wayfair staged a walkout Wednesday to protest against the company's agreement to supply beds to detention centers for migrant children at the US-Mexico border.

Wayfair employees in Boston oppose a $200,000 contract the company signed with President Donald Trump's administration, saying they did not want the company to "profit" from the migrant crisis at the border.

"Knowing what's going on at the southern border and knowing that Wayfair has the potential to profit from it is pretty scary," said Elizabeth Good, a manager on the company's engineering team and one of the protest organizers.

Public outcry over Trump's handling of the border crisis has increased dramatically after a migrant rights group revealed alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas, where children were deprived of showers and clean clothes for weeks.

Protesters walked from their headquarters in southeast Boston to a nearby public park, brandishing posters that bore slogans such as "A prison with a bed is still a prison" and "Solidarity with migrant families."

When the contract was announced last week, 500 employees signed a petition stating that "the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of."

Wayfair responded by stressing the importance of "respecting diversity of thought within our organization and across our customer base."

"As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers," Wayfair executives said in an unsigned letter to employees.

"We believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate."

Local media reported that Wayfair co-founder Steve Conine assured employees during a meeting on Tuesday he did not support the detention centers. But "we're not a political entity," he said, according to The Boston Globe.

"We're not trying to take a political side."

The strike garnered praise from elected Democratic officials, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is an outspoken critic of Trump and his management of the situation at the border.

"This is what solidarity looks like -- a reminder that everyday people have real power, as long as we're brave enough to use it," she said on Twitter.

The Trump administration has come under fire for cracking down on migrants trying to cross the border and for preventing refugees for asking for asylum at ports of entry.

Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, and the numbers have overwhelmed the ability of US authorities to temporarily shelter and process them.

There were 144,000 migrants taken into custody in May alone, the highest number in 13 years, of whom 12,000 were unaccompanied minors.