Wet Seal workers fired for protesting terms of layoff
Three employees of teen clothing store Wet Seal whose protest of their pending layoff went viral on Reddit said Tuesday they’ve been fired.
Seattle Times business reporter
Three employees of teen-clothing store Wet Seal who had posted a sign protesting their treatment by the company said Tuesday they’ve been fired.
The employees worked at the company’s Northgate Mall location — one of several in the Puget Sound area that the struggling retailer is closing down.
The sign at the Northgate store, which went viral on social media, listed grievances after the company abruptly informed employees last week that it was closing that store.
Among the issues: no pay for unused vacation and sick leave time, one day’s notice to find new jobs and having to apply for other positions within the company rather than directly transfer.
The big, yellow, handwritten sign, which store manager Andrea Friesner and her assistant managers put up in the store window on Sunday afternoon, had become the top story on the website Reddit by Monday morning.
Friesner, who has worked for Wet Seal for eight years, seven of them at the Northgate location, said employees at the store learned Friday that it was closing, as part of a conference call with three other local stores that had been running deep discounts.
Employees at two of the other stores on that call — the Wet Seal plus-size store at Southcenter Mall and the store at South Hill Mall in Puyallup — confirmed that Tuesday was the last day for the stores.
Wet Seal’s corporate office in Foothill Ranch, Calif., did not return several requests for comment.
The retailer had warned in December that it might file for bankruptcy protection. Late last month, it had also received a notice of default from a creditor on $27 million in senior convertible notes.
In its most recent fiscal quarter, ended Nov. 1, Wet Seal reported a net loss of $36 million, compared to a net loss of $12.5 million in the year-ago period. Sales totaled $104.3 million, down from $114.9 million a year ago.
Wet Seal shares closed at 6 cents Tuesday. A year ago, it was trading at about $2.77.
Friesner said she’d been “seeing the writing on the wall” for her store for a while, but “you don’t want to believe it’s possible.”
After being told Friday that the Northgate location was indeed closing and that Saturday would be the last day of work for the sales associates there, the managers were given the option of a bonus if they wanted to help close the store over the next week.
On Sunday, Friesner, along with her two assistant managers, juggled handling a constant stream of customers snatching items being sold at 70 percent off, selling store fixtures to other businesses and boxing up merchandise.
Two former sales associates came in to help them, even though they weren’t being paid.
“Bless them,” Friesner said. “They were loyal. They knew how sad we were.”
When they finally hit a lull Sunday afternoon, Friesner wrote the sign, inspired by a similar one posted by employees at a Wet Seal store in Dublin, Ohio, that had also found its way onto social media.
Friesner, who estimates she had about 102 hours of vacation time and 48 hours of sick time saved up, doesn’t know who posted a photo of the sign on Reddit. But by the time it reached about 100,000 views that night, she got “nervous about how quickly it spread,” she said.
On Monday morning, both her district director and Northgate Mall told her to take the sign down, which Friesner did.
Even as she worked at the store that Monday morning, Friesner also tried to quietly give interviews to the media.
She then had a heated exchange with her district director, who had arrived at the location that morning, and had told her that the sign was inappropriate and unprofessional, she said.
Her two assistant managers came in to support her, and all three were fired, they said.
The district director could not immediately be reached for comment.
“I didn’t know someone could be fired after being laid off,” Friesner said. “I wanted to see it through to the end. I wanted to finish it out. I had that taken away from me.”
Friesner said she never intended for the sign to go viral and didn’t anticipate the impact it would make.
“I was trying to support everyone else,” she said. “I get what we do is sell T-shirts. People are laid off every day. I’m not special. I understand that. I get that, legally, they can do this. It doesn’t make it right.”