BRUNSWICK, Maine — Three employees among several hundred who work at Wayfair’s Brunswick offices joined a national protest Wednesday afternoon, walking out of their jobs to protest the online retailer’s sale of $200,000 worth of furniture to a government contractor that runs a detention center for migrant children in Texas.
Meanwhile, no employees at the company’s customer service center in Bangor, where more than 200 people work, walked out of work on a day when hundreds of employees at Wayfair’s Boston headquarters and supporters staged a protest.
Shortly before 1:30 p.m., protesters gathered in the company’s parking lot in Brunswick, carrying signs and chanting in support of the anticipated walkout.
But by 1:45 p.m., aside from several employees buying lunch at the Mainely Burgers food truck, only three had emerged from the company’s office to join the protesters.
Among them, Emile Boisvert, 26, of Brunswick stood in the group of about 20 people. Boisvert said he clocked out after only four hours of his usual eight-hour shift to support “what’s happening in Boston right now.”
Another employee, who would not give his name, said while buying his lunch that employees had been instructed not to speak to the media.
More than 500 employees at the company’s Boston headquarters signed a protest letter to executives when they found out about the sale to BCFS, the government contractor, the Associated Press reported. Wednesday’s walkout was organized when employees said Wayfair refused to back out of selling to contractors running migrant detention centers on the southern border.
Boisvert said he hoped his action would show the company that he’s “on board with the movement.”
He said employees were told they could join the walkout on company time if they wished. He said he was not sure why more people didn’t join the protest and said he does not fear that his job is in jeopardy.
In Bangor, although no employees walked out of work, some expressed their support for the protest action in Boston.
Amiee Twigg, an employee at the Bangor office, said she loves working for Wayfair but is disappointed in what she believes is a violation of the company’s core beliefs.
“This is a company that I have really believed in. We volunteer regularly and get paid for eight hours of volunteering. We give back regularly and support our community,” said Twigg, a mother of five. “I think that’s what bothers me the most about this, that it goes against what we say we value.”
The protest triggered a broader backlash against the company, with social media users saying they were canceling orders. Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both said they stood by the Wayfair employees who are protesting, as did Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Wayfair’s stock initially slipped more than 5 percent Tuesday as word of the walkout spread and remained flat Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wayfair announced that it planned to donate $100,000 to the American Red Cross to address humanitarian needs at the southern border.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, Elizabeth Good, one of the Wayfair walkout organizers, said that knowing the company is profiting from what’s going on at the southern border is “pretty scary.”
The Globe cited a letter from management to employees in which it said that it’s standard practice to fulfill orders for any customer acting within the law. Wayfair did not respond to several requests for comment by The Associated Press.
The unprecedented surge of migrant families has left U.S. immigration detention centers severely overcrowded and taxed the government’s ability to provide medical care and other attention. Six children have died since September after being detained by border agents. As the controversy grew, the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned Tuesday, though he did not give a reason for leaving.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.