In the latest Twitter battle, Senator Bernie Sanders is taking on Everlane’s CEO.
After 42 members of Everlane’s 57-person customer service team were fired on Friday, Sanders accused Everlane of using the coronavirus pandemic to “union bust.” The customer service team was in the process of forming a union to improve their working conditions. In January, the workers had announced their intention to unionize through the Communications Workers of America, but they still had not been recognized as a collective bargaining unit because a majority of workers had not yet signed union cards.
In January, Vice reported that the workers, who worked remotely, complained of “low pay, nonexistent benefits, [and] unpredictable scheduling.” On Friday, the official Everlane Union Twitter account said much of the team had been laid off.
In a tweet Monday, Sanders called on Everlane to bring the laid-off customer service workers back on payroll and to recognize the Everlane Union.
This was the hardest decision we've ever made. It's important to know the facts: pic.twitter.com/nTUQzpZNqY
— Everlane (@Everlane) March 28, 2020
Michael Preysman, Everlane’s CEO, publicly pushed back against Sanders. In a tweet from the company’s handle, he said the employees’ dismissal wasn’t because of the unionization efforts, but because the company as a whole is suffering as a result of this crisis, particularly because the business isn’t profitable.
“In our code of conduct, we support the right to organize,” Presyman says. “In this case, workers have been organizing for four months but never reached the voting process. We had to make the incredible difficult decision to let go of hundreds of workers because of economic reasons, including some from the customer service team. But it was in no way related to the union. And if employees at our company want to organize a union, we will of course support that.”
He said all part-time positions have been eliminated, but that Everlane has converted 20 customer experience workers into full-time employees with benefits. “This had been in the work for a long time,” Preysman explains. “We had put out the job applications for these full-time positions in January. Our long term goal is to offer as many people who work at Everlane health benefits.”
Everlane is far from alone in letting employees go. Many companies, particularly venture-backed startups, have begun laying off or furloughing workers. Everlane’s struggles are emblematic of what is happening more broadly in the world of venture-backed direct-to-consumer brands, which have historically prioritized growth over profitability. Many retail companies also have fixed costs, such as brick-and-mortar stores, which will quickly deplete their cash reserves, if they have any.
Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Michael Preysman.