An email has come in from a reader in the USA (emails to southside socialist at hotmail dot co dot uk, please) which the writer has given me permission to share.
My ex-coworkers and I have been following this blog for a while now (we no longer work for lush but Stay in touch), and I figured it was about time I shared what I learned in my 2.5 years with LushCosmetics here in the USA.
I have a whole lot to say, but I will begin by saying this –
The pay issue is just as bad here in the states, if not worse. Employees here cannot pay their bills unless they have more than one job. They are expected to do and know more than anyone in the business, and put up with the low pay, verbal abuse, shady management with zero accountability, and in come cases, straight-up sexual harassment and religious discrimination.
Because of that sweet, sweet lush Kool-aid of, “we care about the planet. No other company cares like we do, and you’re LUCKY to be employed with us. You’re LUCKY to be paid $.xx more than minimum wage. You should THANK us.”
So my tale begins-
I began working for lush years ago, and had a friend who had been with them for a while and enthused non-stop about how great her job was. They were opening a shop nearby and doing interviews in a couple weeks so I researched and prepared myself, and ultimately got the job. Of course they trained us and had us worshipping the almighty MC by the end of our first day of training. Even I thought it was weird though, how the people training us would say things like “Oh my god here’s a picture of me SHAKING HIS HAND. I can’t BELIEVE he touched me!” Which is something that I feel is reserved for people who are, at least, talented.
Six months in, our new shop was already experiencing serious problems due to our manager. We did not have an MIT for quite a while, and our 23-year-old manager from Oklahoma was more interested in the big city lifestyle than running our shop. She often would not come in to work to manage because she was hung over, and the majority of the work was left to four people, myself and three others. Two were employees of Lush for 1+ years and had some idea of how to manage things, and the other two of us learned very quickly that this situation was commonplace, and that lush has no accountability to those in charge. One of the girls who was an employee who transferred and had been the Product Knowledge guru of her old shop (we are still friends today) basically trained me and a few of the other girls herself, while the other two girls tried their best to make sure product came in on time and generally manage as best they could. We got by somehow, but needless to say, it was an almighty mess. Our manager also took to hiring a young man PURELY DUE TO HER SEXUAL ATTRACTION TO HIM. I don’t think any of us realized it until maybe a month in, when she began making passes at him. She made sure they were scheduled together so she could talk ceaselessly about things she would be willing to do for a man in bed, which disgusted us all. She often confided that she only hired him because she wanted to have sex with him, and hoped he would take the hint and ask her out, much to our horror.
She was later fired, but not until he had filed many complaints to HR with no response until he threatened to file a lawsuit. He told me he got a settlement when I discussed it with him later, but he did not disclose the amount. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough I’m sure.
I ended up moving cities for family reasons, and transferred locations to stay in the company. My new shop was much more high-volume and I had trouble adjusting, but eventually settled in and made new friends in the shop. At some point shortly after my arrival at the new shop, our manager quit to pursue her own business (I never had any real issues with her, beyond her insistence that she was an original punk-rocker despite being in her late 30’s at the oldest and generally being very condescending, but many of the older employees had complaints about her unsurprising tendency towards favoritism). There was a new MIT, who had started in the shop the same time I did and had transferred from a large makeup chain store.
And this is where it gets interesting.
She was left for 6 MONTHS to manage the shop by herself, and it became very clear that she is the kind of person that, as a wise man once said, should never ever be given the clipboard of authority. Every time I opened the shop with her, she would show up 20 minutes late, and she would never adjust my pay for it. She told me on multiple occasions that she clocked in on her cell phone while she was on her way to work so her time would appear correct. As time went on, and she realized that no one could stop her from doing anything she wanted, she began to verbally harass some of the members of our staff that were particularly sensitive – namely, one who suffered from extreme anxiety, and essentially cornering her, threatening to fire her for her “attitude,” and sending her home crying – and money and product began to go “missing” every morning she worked and was counting the cash and getting the product (seeing as she believed she was the only one capable of doing these things, despite her inability to even show up on time), and then saying that she now needed to search our bags upon arrival and departure from our scheduled work hours, which is not only against Lush policy but AGAINST MANY PRIVACY LAWS IN THE USA WITHOUT A WARRANT. She also began to harass some of the employees who were in college, who dutifully turned in their availability sheets before the final deadlines with time to spare, and were nonetheless told they were expected to come into work, and that failure to do so would result in being fired.
At some point, we all got fed up. And one particular girl, whom we will call Tracy, was more or less the ringleader. “Something needs to change. We need to contact HR. What do we do?” I mentioned the stress that my ex-coworker had gone under when experiencing sexual harassment and told them that I didn’t believe anything beyond a lawsuit would get their attention, but we were reminded by Tracy that lush requires upon hiring that we sign a nice, neat little agreement that any issues we have with the company will be settled outside of the US court system. So we all banded together, and decided that we would all email HR ourselves. And remember, this was 20+ women at once, all emailing their stories to HR. All of them agreeing with each other and everything checking out. We believed that Lush would care, and that’s where we went wrong, because Tracy was the only one to receive a response. And what did Lush’s HR department have to say for 20+ employees recognizing abuse, theft, and harassment from the person THEY left in charge?
They quite literally emailed Tracy with a single sentence – “What do you want US to do about it?”
It was at this moment that I believe the collective disillusionment began in our shop. None of us knew what to do. Many of us resolved to quit, but of course didn’t because we were part of an elaborate cult now and didn’t know how to get out. As you’ve stated before in the blog, it’s insidious and genius how they hand-pick people who care enough to accept less than they’re worth for a “cause.” It’s well-documented so I won’t get into it.
They sent someone to help as the holiday seasons started, and a new manager was given to us. I liked her at first (truly no one could possibly be worse than that MIT so rose-colored glasses were donned for a while). However, she was a very, VERY religious person and incredibly pushy about politics too. Her more-or-less nice personality became less and less important than telling employees regularly that anyone who takes Birth control pills is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and that abortion for any reason was wrong, and that gay marriage should never be legal or okay, under ANY circumstances. (All of us wondered retrospectively why she wanted to work for lush in the first place.) She often went on tirades about this, then of course shifting gears at realizing how illegal her 5-minute slut shaming speech saying “But that’s just my opinion!” She often made interesting anti-Semitic remarks in my presence (many people of her religion are known to teach in their circles that the Holocaust was fabricated propaganda. Disgusting), at one point, when going on about how health insurance should only be available to people who are members of a religious congregation (LOL) and myself and two other employees politely disagreeing with her, she then targeted me and said
“Well why don’t you get your little Jew friends together and figure it out then? You have plenty of money and doctors anyway.”
This is more or less when I decided to quit, so I began seeking new employment.
In the month between finding new employment and this decision, she fired one of the employees there who had helped open the shop 5 years previously who was also a tremendous help to many of the newer employees AND THE MANAGER AND MIT, and she was told she was being fired for her “insubordination.” The manager then made a point to call EVERY SINGLE ONE of the employees to inform them that she had fired her. It was probably the single most malicious thing I have ever seen a manager do. My ex-coworker was fired, then irreversibly embarrassed in front of all her coworkers. Tracy and another coworker whom we shall call Lorraine did not seem at all surprised. It then came to light later that Lorraine had gotten close to the manager and convinced her to fire our coworker so she could move into her position. Tracy was then promoted to MIT, and seemed perfectly fine with the way HR was handling things now, since she got something out of it.
After this I had my new job, and it was no longer really my problem. But it’s worth noting that I was given a hell of a lot of grief for leaving, especially because I put in my two weeks, and the manager decided to continue scheduling me anyway because a local event left the shop short-handed. I flatly refused to work, as the new job was offering me $300/day while she was offering me 5 hours of work for $10/hour. I apologized of course, as I knew I would miss my coworkers and expressed my desire to help out during the holiday season, but when I applied for seasonal, none of the 4 Lush’s in my city called me back after they spoke with her, despite expressing lots of enthusiasm after talking with them myself.
We have heard story after story since we left – everything from the issues of Tracy accusing someone of sexual harassment in the shop when she was trashed and was the one doing the sexual harassing, to Lush claiming to have no money to train new employees for the holidays while sending managers and manufacturing staff on 5-star weeklong vacations to party all over the world, to managers in my old city disappearing with MC during manager “training” events and showing up with him the next morning bragging about his “choosing” them for the honor of riding his dick. (Sorry to be crass, but it’s true. And disgusting.)
This company is a joke. I still meet up with my old coworkers from time to time to discuss things, and all we get is more angry and sad. Even with this huge email, there is so much that’s happened that I can’t even begin to say. But it all amounts to the same thing.
I always hope that the girls and guys working for this awful company will stand up and step away – that’s the point of capitalism, right? You don’t like your job, you don’t like your pay, you go somewhere else, right? Because of Lush’s insidious culty system, many of these people end up feeling emotionally trapped. They’re scared to speak up because, as it is well-documented, management has no problem making you feel worthless for needing other employment, or to further your education, and throw you out on the street for the next unemployed vegan to come along and take your place, and often for much less money.
And even almost a year later, I can’t even think of a solution, because there are so many people who shop at lush and think it’s just such a great, ethical company. Everyone’s smiling, aren’t they?
It’s like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
“Everything will be perfect, you can save the planet, if you just let me sew on your button-eyes.”
And they don’t give a damn about the health, well-being, or psychological disposition of their employees.
Anyway, thanks again so much for making this blog. It’s so important that the word gets out. I can’t tell you how much solace it’s given those of us who have put up with it for years and thought we were the only ones.
So, my message to all Lush employees, no matter what country they are in, is the same – find out about your legal rights to join a union, and then join. If you’re worried that your employer isn’t that bothered about your employment rights, a union can help.