Beware the Mirage of the Progressive Corporate Image

Houston, we have a problem: popular brands are increasingly touting progressive values while promoting toxic work cultures where employees are overworked, under-paid, and under-valued. 

This week, new reports revealed concerning practices at companies like Uber, Equinox, and Away continue to paint a grim picture of an all too-common reality for American workers: as major companies rake in ever-higher profit margins, workers aren’t being paid or treated fairly. 

One former Equinox fitness trainer described their working environment as “very Hunger Games’ style.” While the company benefits from its workers putting in 80-hour weeks – and routinely having to sleep in the gym in between poorly planned sessions – workers grappled with being required to perform unrealistic expectations while also being underpaid, and at times, not paid at all. Many of the company’s workers report tirelessly working many minimum-wage shifts that entail heavy labor, entry-level compensation, and offer no chance to enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Meanwhile, Equinox CEO Stephen Ross enjoys a $7 billion fortune.

This isn’t the first time Equinox’s questionable business practices have come to light. Equinox comes off as a fairly progressive brand that one would expect to be friendly to workers: with donations to progressive causes, an organic tampon brand, and an extensive PR campaign. While the brand benefits from this “progressive” light, they are also implementing plain unfair business practices, hosting fundraisers for Donald Trump, and refusing to give a fair wage to employees working grueling hours. 

Make no mistake, Equinox is not the only company guilty of these hypocritical practices. Employees at popular luggage brand Away have shared similar woes of being grossly micromanaged, restricted from online correspondence with their colleagues, and publicly ridiculing and tearing into other employees in company Slack-chat channels. The image that Away presents to potential consumers is not a reality of the unhealthy work-culture its employees endure. 

What’s more, a recent report about Uber revealed that workers employed by the company are clearly treated as inferior by higher-level staff. An Uber office in Rhode Island created separate bathrooms for “drivers” and “employees”. The separate bathroom signs casts a light on the company’s decision to create its own hierarchy system by treating workers and office employees as if they were two different classes. 

It’s time to start calling out these companies for trying to make a quick buck off of people’s good intentions. The progressive, worker-friendly image dupes consumers who genuinely want to put their money into companies with fair and equitable practices – these companies wouldn’t try so hard to craft that image if they didn’t think consumers were looking to support ethical companies in the first place. That’s what makes reports like this so egregious. 

Companies performing in a way that is a blatant affront to their stated values is exploitation at its most palpable, because it exploits both sides of the transaction. Workers deserve to be valued and hard-working consumers deserve to know the facts about the type of company their dollars are going to. 

While companies report massive revenues and their mostly-white higher-ups enjoy massive raises, the workers that form the backbone of the company are largely disregarded and poorly treated. We cannot continue to allow brands to profit from their so-called progressiveness while treating their employees like a disposable piece of property. Workers deserve a fair wage, basic benefits, reasonable hours, and more than anything, the ability to live a good life. 


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