Burlington Coat Factory
Dear Mr. O’Sullivan,
I am a Burlington Coat Factory employee from Van Nuys, CA, a single mom to two daughters working multiple retail jobs, and a Black woman. I recently read your public statement standing with Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. You said: “I’d like to reaffirm our commitment to embracing inclusivity, and being part of the struggle for fairness and equality for all.” As one of your many Black employees, #BlackLivesMatter is not a slogan to me. If you say it, I expect your actions to match your words. But in your stores, I’m deeply concerned that Black women are not treated as if they matter.
In the last few months, I have had family members contract—and die from—coronavirus. As you may know, Black people are more at risk of death from COVID-19. I am concerned for my own health as I work on our shop floor. While our family was still in mourning, we learned that my cousin was murdered in a home invasion. After staying up all night grieving for my cousin, I explained what had happened and asked my manager for an extra hour to get into work. Instead, my manager said that if I didn’t come into work immediately, they would give away my position. I was shocked that my manager denied my request for a bit more time to get ready, not giving me the dignity of taking a shower, after finding out my cousin died.
When I went in for my shift as required, we had a staff meeting to discuss protocols for opening during COVID-19. During the meeting, a coworker made a comment about the recent protests surrounding George Floyd’s death and mentioned her concern about store lootings. All of my coworkers stopped and immediately turned to look at me, the only Black associate in the meeting. Why did everyone feel the need to stop and stare at me, including at least five other managers? I was at home grieving and managers dared to force me to come in for a shift just to humiliate me?
These experiences are an everyday reality for the Black community. We’re expected to roll with the punches, forgive and forget, be professional. But when do I get to expect the bare minimum amount of dignity from my peers and managers? My managers are all white, and I believe I am singled out because of my race, which in turn, keeps our team divided and separated. It’s almost as if managers want us to compete with each other to create animosity.
I’ve been forced to move furniture with a shoulder injury while larger, stronger, employees move stuffed animals. When I speak up, managers say, “you’re a strong girl.” This microaggression is deeply racist and rooted in assumptions that Black men and women are universally stronger or feel less pain than others. Before putting out a national statement saying you stand with Black Lives I would encourage you to talk to your Black employees first. A starting point would be seeing if Black employees and customers feel welcome and safe in your stores. I for one, do not.
If Burlington Coat Factory truly wants to stand in solidarity with the Black community and embody the meaning of #BlackLivesMatter, the company can immediately take steps to improve our workplace culture by:
- Building a culture that values feedback from employees with a process for implementing feedback.
- Ensure that Burlington hires more full-time Black employees and that all employees–Black, brown and white employees have access to living wages and adequate hours. After four years, I earn only $13.50/hour and normally get 12 hours/week.
- Break down racial barriers in stores by supporting Black employees and employees of color into managerial roles. Currently almost all of the managers in my store are white.
- Show leadership by including hourly employees on BCF’s Board of Directors. Doing so would ensure that Black employees have a real voice in the day-to-day business decisions that impact our livelihoods and our communities.
We need companies and corporations standing against racism. While I appreciate your intention to speak up against injustice, there are everyday injustices that Burlington can address which will help build a more inclusive community and world. As a Black employee, I feel like I am isolated from my few Black coworkers, and invisible to everyone else unless I’m being singled out for my race. I hope you will seriously consider the above requests to change the culture at Burlington and build a better, and more inclusive company.
Burlington Coat Factory
United for Respect Leader