Here It Is: My Thoughts on that Everlane Vice Article
In case you haven’t seen it, a few weeks ago VICE published an article revealing that many of Everlane’s remote, part-time customer service employees were planning to unionize in response to a number of complaints they felt hadn’t been addressed.
The gist of those complaints are as follows:
Unprofessional and unresponsive management
Unsatisfactory wages (around $16 an hour in states such as Virginia, where the minimum wage is $7.25)
Lack of access to perks, like massages, that full time, non-remote employees receive
Lack of healthcare and other benefits
Not unexpectedly, parts of the ethical fashion community are up in arms about this news, claiming that it reveals that Everlane is a corrupt company after all, just as they’d suspected based on previous questions around their transparency and sustainability claims.
A Service Worker’s Perspective
As someone who has worked in retail and service for ten years, you want to know how I feel, honestly?
It doesn’t bother me that much. In fact, I kind of considered applying for a part-time position with Everlane when I read that they make $16 an hour, more than I’ve ever made in my whole adult life, and certainly more than I make at my student job in a much higher cost-of-living town than Charlottesville.
But that doesn’t mean that Everlane should just get a pass.
Rather, their issues should be considered within the wider culture of service work, where workers are largely considered expendable despite the high amount of emotional labor and particular skillsets they must develop in order to succeed.
Let me go through each complaint in detail…
Unprofessional and unresponsive management
This is something I’m very sympathetic to, because managers can make or break a work environment, and there is nothing more demeaning than working a job where the people with power don’t see you as a valued individual. Reading between the lines, I think this is probably the number one issue for part-time Everlane employees.
It’s the implicit problem behind every other complaint, and is also reflected in upper management’s typical anti-union response (it’s very common for corporations, such as Hobby Lobby and Target, to make new hires watch an anti-union propaganda video during training).
I’m sorry, what? I get that $16 is barely a living wage in several cities across the country, but it still far exceeds the standard wage for a customer service position. When I worked at Hobby Lobby, the wage for a full time worker was $12 an hour, which was literally the BEST wage for a retail worker position in the area. In fact, my college degree is one of the reasons I was able to secure this coveted $12 position.
What’s more, ethical clothing brand, Sotela, just revealed that their part-time pattern maker is paid $14 an hour in southern California.
Lack of Access to Perks
I get how this feels really unfair to part-time workers who are getting wind of these kinds of perks, but having worked at a screen-printing business that’s consistently ranked as a top employer partly because it offers perks like free food and yoga, I can tell you that they mean very little if you have management or other environment issues that aren’t resolved. This is the least worrisome thing about the accusations.
Lack of Healthcare and Other Benefits
This is, objectively, not good. But it’s also perfectly legal under our current healthcare laws, and another good reminder that access to affordable healthcare should not be tied to employment.
Healthcare is a human right, and to imply otherwise is to claim that people with more money and more connections are more deserving of being alive.
How Everlane Should Respond
Everlane workers absolutely should unionize
From the responses I’ve seen from customers and ethical influencers, there’s this bizarre “do better” response that discounts the fact that unions are a good idea for workers in service and other “blue collar” positions precisely because they give back power to workers who are so often disenfranchised.
Even if Everlane’s part-time workers had few complaints, unionizing wouldn’t be unreasonable. Doing so will protect their interests going forward.
Everlane should have dealt with management dysfunction much earlier
Part-time workers were complaining about communication breakdowns for months and it took threatening to unionize to get them to respond. That’s not ok.
Everlane would do well to offer healthcare options to part-time workers
Just because it’s not legally required doesn’t mean Everlane shouldn’t offer at least marginal healthcare options for part-time workers. It sets the tone for a universal ethos of care for workers, and domestic workers matter every bit as much as international garment workers.
The Public Response
The Ethical Fashion Community’s Privilege is Showing
The fact that so many ethical influencers and customers are acting indignant about this relatively low grade “scandal” reveals that they have no freaking idea how bad it is for the average customer service or retail worker. It’s hard for me to sympathize with the outrage when literally no one was outraged on my behalf over the last decade of emotional abuse, sexual harassment, and dehumanization I endured in the service industry. That makes me angry.
We need to start showing up for all service industry workers
I read an article a few years ago that made the compelling case that service work is America’s new factory work. In the mid-twentieth century, blue collar labor was seen as respectable, and as such most Americans agreed that a factory job should provide a living wage and benefits that could support a family unit.
Today’s blue collar workers are service workers – at fast food restaurants, local coffee shops, big box stores, and online fulfillment centers – and we need to acknowledge that their work has value.
If the VICE article can be taken at its word, Everlane is actually treating their remote workers better than the average corporation. But none of us should be measuring what’s best by the status quo.
So, I am concerned that Everlane cut corners without even considering how their ethical ethos should impact domestic work standards. But I am nearly equally concerned that we celebrate small wins when it comes to giant, multi-national companies like LEVI’S and Adidas while vowing to boycott a company that is actually fulfilling its goals to phase out synthetics and plastics from their supply chain and increase renewable fibers while providing a much higher standard of transparency than any other company of its size.
Meanwhile, I’m awaiting updates on whether or not employees actually did decide to unionize. If Everlane retaliates by firing workers, this will become a much less tolerable issue. If you hear anything, let me know.