The clothing retailer Everlane has made extensive cuts to its workforce amid the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to 290 layoffs across the company.
According to a report by Vice, reductions to the team included 42 of the 57 members of the remote customer experience team and 180 part-time retail employees, with an additional 68 full-time retail employees told that their jobs had been “furloughed.” The layoffs came just four days after union organizers, who were working with the Communications Workers of America in late December of 2019, asked the company's management team to recognize them. The union had not yet been formed with a complete number of members at the time of the request, according to company representatives.
After union organizers posted their response to the layoffs, Everlane CEO Michael Preysman said in an Instagram comment that the company had made the “difficult decision” to make cuts because “business has come to a halt” amid the coronavirus outbreak. “We can no longer operate in the way we had planned,” Preysman wrote. “Yes, it’s awful and feels terrible. But we want to be there on the other side to hire as many people back as possible.”
Despite Preysman’s characterization of the need for layoffs as being an urgent and unexpected development, workers say that company managers had stressed that they were “in this together” in the days and weeks leading up to those terminations, though Everlane representatives say that the number of store closures and drop in sales made these cuts imminent for the company's survival.
In a statement provided to Refinery29, Everlane assured that the layoffs were not based on any unionizing efforts, but had "everything to do with the dramatic impact COVID-19 has had on the global economy."
"COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the entire world, and Everlane is no exception. Our retail stores closed indefinitely and total revenue is off our original plan by 25%. This impact on our business put us in a position where we had to let go of 290 talented people across the company, 14% of which were on our customer experience team," the statement read. "Those impacted were offered two weeks severance and we were able to transition 20 customer experience team members into full time roles with benefits."
According to the union’s official Twitter account, “people that have worked for Everlane for up to four years were told repeatedly no lay offs [sic] would occur.” One employee tweeted her surprise after being let go amid the ongoing layoffs. "I've worked for this company for 3 1/2 years. I was just let go. I've given everything to Everlane, and I've defended the company, even when many were against it. I'm heartbroken, shocked, and outraged with how this was handled," Natalie Royal wrote on her Twitter.
The timing and the thoroughness of the layoffs were enough to raise suspicions among some — including, notably, Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — that the company was using the pandemic as a way to mask union-busting tactics. “Using this health and economic crisis to union bust is morally unacceptable,” Sanders tweeted. “I’m calling on @Everlane to bring workers back on payroll and recognize the @EverlaneU.”
The layoffs come as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spotlight poor labor practice across the United States. On Monday, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island and the grocery delivery startup Instacart engaged in work stoppages to protest what they described as failures by management to adequately protect workers amid the ongoing health crisis. On Tuesday, workers at Whole Foods — the national grocery chain owned by Amazon — were poised to follow suit, demanding that corporate leaders recognize the need for paid sick leave for part-time and seasonal workers and shut down locations where workers had tested positive for the virus.
Despite building its business upon the dual promises of “radical transparency” and an ethical supply chain, staffers at Everlane have taken issue with the recent mass layoffs. Even if the company plans, as Preysman says, to be “there on the other side to hire as many people back as possible” when the coronavirus crisis is over, the future of Everlane's workforce is uncertain.
Refinery29 has reached out the the Everlane Union for comment and will update this story when we know more.