Conditions at Wet Seal Stores Leave Employees Feeling Clubbed

Wet Seal, retail, social media, twitter, the American worker, chain stores, Leon Kaye, layoffs
No mincing words — Wet Seal employees feel screwed.

It is not easy being a mall these days, nor is it easy being a mall store. And it certainly is not easy being a mall store employee with the low pay and lack of benefits that are trademarks of working in retail. Wet Seal, once a symbol of “mall rat” culture, is the latest clothing company to struggle with a shift in consumer shopping trends.

Unfortunately, like other struggling retail chains, Wet Seal is not managing its demise with much grace. After a long court battle, the tween and young women’s clothing company settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit alleging it discriminated against black employees for not fitting the company’s “brand image.” California employees also sued the company over policies such as being forced to purchase Wet Seal clothes and not being reimbursed for travel between locations.

Then there are the mounting financial problems: Wet Seal has lost over $150 million in the past two years, and it recently defaulted on a private placement deal to the tune of $28 million. As the company prepares to close as many as 60 stores by the end of the month, its CFO scored a $95,000 raise.

Many Wet Seal employees, however, will not get a raise — but layoffs and pink slips instead. And the anger is summed up best at a Seattle mall, where employees put up a sign airing their grievances. Among the many reasons why employees are angry include unpaid vacation and sick time; a one-day notice that their jobs were disappearing (pretty typical in most sectors, sadly); no offers to transfer to another store; and long job histories marked by almost no wage increases.

Companies bleeding money often take the most desperate of tactics, and this is true of Wet Seal. Unfortunately, receiving a notice that advises “of a decision that will affect you” (did someone really learn this in human resources school?) — with the order to destroy it once read — comes across as heartless. Employees and their allies are responding in kind with a fury on social media. Hashtags including #ForgetWetSeal, #BoycottWetSeal and the pointed but disturbing #ClubWetSeal are making the rounds on Twitter. Meanwhile more signs are appearing in Wet Seal storefronts, causing the California-based chain more PR headaches, though it is unlikely the company will change its approach towards its employees anytime soon.

The result is another chain joining the likes of Walmart, Sears and Radio Shack in retail purgatory and writing another sad chapter about the burdens confronting the American worker.

Image credit: Imgur

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

One response

  1. Mr. Kaye is certainly correct when he says, that “Wet Seal
    is not managing its demise with much grace” as other dying retailers. The story
    seems to answer the question “is there corporate death with dignity” in the
    negative, at least as far as Wet Seal is concerned.

    Business schools do not teach managers how to handle corporate demise. But as Mr. Kaye suggests, common sense and responsible thinking should still prevail. The normal “maximize shareholder value” paradigm for business managers does not apply here. The long-term shareholders, if there are any left, have gone down with the ship. The stock has lost almost 98% of its value in the last year.

    The stakeholders to management decision-making with the most at stake at this point are the employees and creditors. And the interests of those stakeholders are in opposition. It seems that Wet Seal management has heavily discounted the interests of the employees in this bad situation. So a lesson to the management of a
    terminally-ill company might be that the best way to manage corporate death
    with dignity is treating the employees with dignity.

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