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article imageOp-Ed: Urban Outfitters just asked employees to work for free

By Megan Hamilton     Oct 10, 2015 in Business
With fall in the air, the crush of customers wanting warmer clothes can't be far behind. Retailers like Urban Outfitters are counting on that, and this is why the chain wants its employees to work weekends.
For free.
Really, what were you going to do with all that money, pay the rent or something?
The company sent a chirpy email Tuesday afternoon to salaried employees at URBN, its Philadelphia-based home office, the parent company that happens to own Urban, along with Anthropologie and Free People, Gawker reports.
The email read, in part:
"A Call for URBN Volunteers!
"URBN is seeking weekend volunteers to help out at our fulfillment center in Gap, PA. October will be the busiest month yet for the center, and we need additional helping hands to ensure the timely shipment of orders. As a volunteer, you will work side by side with your GFC colleagues to help pick, pack, and ship orders for our wholesale and direct customers.
"In addition to servicing the needs of our customers, it's a great way to experience our fulfillment operations first hand. Get your co-workers together for a team building activity."
And lunch is free! What? You say you need food for your kids? Tell those brats to get a job. I don't care if the oldest is only aged three.
Just think, you get to "pick, pack, and ship orders," all for free. Oh, and they also provide transportation. Can't have your car running out of gas while you're on the way to work for free, now can we? After all, as Gawker notes, URBN needs "additional helping hands." They just don't want to pay those hands for doing the work.
Urban Outfitters also tends to be the bull in the proverbial china shop when it comes to trampling people's cultural or political sensitivities, HuffPost Business notes.
In 2011, the company infuriated the Navajo Nation after using the Navajo name on things like underwear and a flask. According to The Washington Post, the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act makes it illegal to falsely suggest that merchandise is produced by Native Americans when it's not.
Then, in 2012, Urban really went for broke and upset the Irish community with St. Patrick's Day T-shirts bearing offensive slogans, the Post reported. Slogans like: "Irish I were drunk," "I'm a drinker, not a fighter," and, on a hat "Irish Yoga," picturing a man on his knees barfing.
The stereotypical slogans managed to offend Rep. Joe Crowley, (D-NY) and the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (AOH) at the same time. Good job, Urban! Did I mention that the AOH is the largest Irish American organization in the US?
Other groups including Jewish folks, New Mexicans, and Middle Eastern bloggers have also complained about the company's alleged lack of sensitivity, the Post reports.
Fortunately, the company is making some positive changes, having ended on-call scheduling for workers in its New York stores, MarketWatch reports.
On-call shifts require employees to be available and check with their supervisors right before their shifts may begin. If they aren't asked to work, they don't get paid, ABC News reports. Urban Outfitters has agreed to provide employees at least one week in advance of the start of the work week, said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
In a statement, according to MarketWatch, he wrote:
"As part of this agreement, Urban Outfitters has also agreed to provide employees with their schedules at least one week prior to the start of the work week," he said. "Workers deserve basic protections, including a reliable work schedule that allows them to budget living expenses, arrange for child care needs, and plan their days."
So there's that at least, and it's a positive step.
The company is looking for help during the last three weekends in October, ABC News reports.
Surprisingly, the company says that the request was met with a fair amount of enthusiasm, with even hourly paid employees offering to pitch in — "an offer which we appreciated, but declined in order to ensure full compliance with all applicable labor laws and regulations," the company said in a statement to ABC News.
It also said:
"The dedication and commitment of URBN employees are second to none, and their response to this request is a testament to their solidarity and continued success."
All of this is couched in cozy, homey terms, and the company spins this as a "team building activity," where office-based employees will "experience our fulfillment operations first hand," Gawker notes. I'm sorry, but I fail to see how "fulfilling" it is to encourage workers to labor without the pay that provides them with the things that they and their families need. There is something to be said for working hard, and receiving a paycheck for that hard work.
Which is exactly why the employees who are doing this deserve to be paid. Or, at the very least, they deserve to be in jobs where they are paid what they are worth. This is a company whose executives seem to think nothing of stereotyping people and marginalizing them, and by encouraging employees to work for free, it's just starting the process all over again. It's just another spin on the hamster wheel called capitalism.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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