You would think that a worldwide pandemic that has shuttered people indoors would mean that Rent the Runway subscribers wouldn’t feel the need to rent designer clothing. And yet women still are, as New Jersey and Texas warehouse workers for the company have to continue to fulfill orders.
In a damning piece for the Huff Post, reporter Jesselyn Cook interviewed 22 former and current employees and contractors about how expendable they feel within the company. The company has found a loophole to declare itself an essential business, relying on its status as a “fulfillment center” under New Jersey and Texas state executive orders for businesses to close. What’s most baffling is that women are still even renting clothes at all, even though the company gave subscribers the option to pause the service. The piece links to an incredibly tone-deaf Refinery29 piece about how women are still renting clothing, with one quoted as hoping employees at the company are being treated “like royalty.”
But the conditions of the warehouses are dangerous. Warehouses in Arlington, Texas, and Secaucus, New Jersey, are described as having inadequate air conditioning in addition to having to deal with piles of dirty clothing that could potentially carry the virus. Employees say Rent the Runway didn’t implement social distancing protocols in warehouses until late March, with masks only provided in mid-April.
Some workers are using vacation days and sick leave to avoid work, but beyond that the company uses a demerit system to track absences. Because of the fulfillment center loophole in New Jersey and Texas, if employees refuse to work at legally operating businesses they can lose benefits. Rent the Runway was guaranteeing a minimum of two hours’ pay per shift, but after HuffPost reached out they doubled that to four hours.
As covid-19 became a concern in early March, Rent the Runway employees tried to bring their concerns about the dangerous work conditions to management. When they received no response, workers started posting comments on the brand’s Instagram account, inquiring about what’s going to happen to the hundreds of people working in the Secaucus warehouse. But Rent the Runway just shut down the comments.
The news from Rent the Runway employees comes after the company has been praised for treating workers well. In 2018, Jennifer Hyman ran an op-ed in the New York Times boasting about the fact that customer service, warehouse, and store employees all have the same benefits and sick leave that corporate employees do.
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