Employees of online retailer Wayfair walked out of offices in Massachusetts and Maine on Wednesday afternoon to protest $200,000 in sales the company made to a federal contractor managing detention centers that house migrant children.

In Boston, several hundred people joined the protest at a plaza near the company’s headquarters, a mix of employees and people from outside the company. At the company’s contact center in Brunswick, five employees joined about 30 non-employees gathered outside the facility shortly after 1:30 p.m. to call on the company to end those sales.

Morgan Robson, a senior sales and service consultant who works at the Brunswick office, said he felt compelled to join the protest because the company should not enable migrant detention centers where children are being confined and mistreated. He came in from parental leave for his newborn daughter to join the walkout, Robson added.

“We should be dismantling concentration camps, not furnishing them,” he said.

Other Maine employees who participated said they joined for similar reasons. More than 400 employees work at the company’s Brunswick facility, and some employees who were not involved in the protest declined to speak to a reporter Wednesday.

A group of workers at the company’s Boston headquarters organized the walkout on social media after failing to persuade the company to discontinue the sales. The protest triggered a broader backlash against the company, with some customers calling for a boycott.

“Last week, we found out about the sale and that we are profiting from this. And we are not comfortable with that,” Tom Brown, a 33-year-old engineer for Wayfair, said during the protest in Boston. “For me personally, there is more to life than profit.”

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Employees of Wayfair march to Copley Square in protest before their rally in Boston on Wednesday. Employees of the online home furnishings retailer walked out of work to protest the company’s decision to sell $200,000 worth of furniture to a government contractor that runs a detention center for migrant children in Texas. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The organizers said they oppose the treatment of migrants in federal detention facilities and learned Wayfair had sold over $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to BCFS Health and Human Services, a Texas-based nonprofit government contractor that manages migrant detention camps along the southern U.S. border. The workers disseminated a protest letter asking the company to stop doing business with detention facility contractors. The group said the letter garnered over 500 employee signatures.

“The United States government and its contractors are responsible for the detention and mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in our country – we want that to end,” the letter says. “We also want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting or profiting from this practice.”

Wayfair management responded with a letter saying that the company has a policy of doing business with any law-abiding customer.

“We believe all of our stakeholders – employees, customers, investors and suppliers included – are best served by our commitment to fulfill all orders,” the management letter says. “This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.”

The company said it would have no further comment on the protest. However, Wayfair announced Wednesday that it would make a $100,000 donation to the Red Cross.

Wayfair sold the beds to Baptist Children’s Family Services, a nonprofit with federal contracts to manage some of the camps along the border.

“We believe youth should sleep in beds with mattresses,” the organization said in a brief statement.

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Wayfair employees and supporters rally at Copley Square in Boston on Wednesday. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The protest comes amid a new uproar over revelations of terrible conditions at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, including inadequate food, lack of medical care, no soap, and older children trying to care for toddlers. A widely published photo of the bodies of a migrant father and young daughter who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico also fueled calls Wednesday for more humane treatment of people trying to cross the southern border.

A 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 intensified, the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned Tuesday, although he did not give a reason for leaving.

Activists who gathered outside the Brunswick Wayfair offices said they wanted to show solidarity with the workers.

Gila Shaw, 54, of Brunswick said she didn’t know how the company’s executives could sleep at night knowing they were “supporting concentration camps.”

She learned about the protest on social media Wednesday morning and decided to take a break from working at home to show support, Shaw said.

“Quite frankly, I feel it is my moral duty to be here,” she said.

Shortly after the walkout started, a pair of Wayfair representatives came outside and asked non-employees to leave the parking lot, but most demonstrators refused.

They chanted slogans and waved signs while Wayfair employees grabbed burgers and fries from a food truck parked at the entrance. Other workers looked on while eating lunch inside the building.

Shortly after 2 p.m., a Brunswick police officer arrived and asked people to move to a sidewalk off Wayfair property. People started leaving the area around 2:15 p.m.

Press Herald Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this report.


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