Wayfair executives should resist the urge to rush for a solution to an escalating dispute with company employees who staged a walkout Wednesday to protest business dealings with U.S. government contractors operating immigration facilities, according to a crisis communications expert.
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The walkout began at 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, days after employees learned that Wayfair planned to sell $200,000 worth of furniture to BCFS, a nonprofit contractor that operates immigration detention facilities at the southern U.S. border. Wayfair executives praised the more than 500 employees who called for the company to sever business ties with immigration contractors, but denied their request.
While the protest generated unprecedented scrutiny of the Boston-based company, merely giving into employee demands to end the dispute could have long-term consequences for Wayfair, according to Dan Hill, CEO of communications firm Hill Impact. Instead, Hill suggests that Wayfair take the time to meet with employees on both sides of the dispute to negotiate a compromise that honors company values and explains the financial complexities that guided their decision.
“The company needs their help in developing a solution, since most anything they do at this point will be perceived as ‘saving face,’ ‘too little too late,’ or just marketing,” Hill told FOX Business. “The key is to consider all aspects and obligations and avoid a pure PR response, since the company will have to live with whatever it comes up with, including the slippery slope that goes along with making business decisions based on societal or political issues.”
The Wayfair protest went viral and drew support from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s use of detention facilities at the border. While Wayfair did not cancel the furniture sale or vow to cut ties with BCFS, the company has reportedly taken steps to address employee concerns.
The retailer donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross to support its “effort to help those in dire need of basic necessities at the border,” according to the Boston Globe, fulfilling a vow that company co-founder Steve Conine made to employees who voiced concerns.
“We are grateful for Wayfair’s generous donation to the Red Cross, and will put it towards the increased aid we have provided for the past six months to community-based organizations helping with the border crisis in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico,” the American Red Cross said in a statement.
Wayfair Walkout, a Twitter account set up to coordinate the protest, called the donation “great news,” but pointed out that it did not address the underlying issue.
“This is great news! And proof that Wayfair can & does do good. However, the Red Cross has nothing to do with these ICE-operated facilities,” the account said.
Wayfair representatives declined comment.
The solution to Wayfair’s employee dispute may lie in its mission statement, according to Hill. Displayed on Wayfair’s website, the company’s “mission is to make home a reality for more of the many people in need of safe shelter and basic household items that help make a home.”
“Not providing beds would be inconsistent with their mission; even if you don’t approve of the centers one must acknowledge that not providing quality goods punishes the very people that the employees and public wish to support,” Hill said. “I think there’s a compromise there, where the company can do something that shows its compassion while not boxing itself in and creating an untenable system that must evaluate the ethics and morality of the purchasers before shipping product.”
This story has been updated.