Wawa will examine its uniform policy after a former employee said he was prohibited from wearing a Black Lives Matter mask at a South Jersey store.
Andre Lynch III arrived at the Wawa on Route 38 in Mount Laurel at 5:30 a.m. Friday wearing the same mask he said he’d worn to work several times since the killing of George Floyd.
Inscribed on the mask are “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Say his name.” The messages honor the memory of Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death has sparked anti-racism protests around the world.
Two hours into his shift, Lynch said, his manager told him he had to change into a plain mask or leave. So, the 20-year-old said, he quit.
Wawa said it could not comment on Lynch’s story, which was first reported by NBC10, under the Delaware County-based company’s policy to not discuss individual workers. But a spokesperson said Monday that Wawa was working to help employees show solidarity with the movement.
“Wawa believes black lives matter,” the spokesperson said, “and it’s why we have posted signage sharing this message in our stores. Additionally, we have been working on ways through our diversity and inclusion efforts to enhance our uniform standards to enable our associates to express their support.”
This week, the company will provide employees with pins to show support for Black Lives Matter “within uniform guidelines, if they choose to,” she said.
Lynch, however, said a small, company-provided pin won’t amplify the voices of people of color.
“It’s like you’re trying to tell somebody, ‘Just shut up,’” he said.
Lynch’s experience comes as corporations are publicly expressing their support of Black Lives Matter and promising to reckon with systemic racism and inequality. Some question whether these statements will actually lead to meaningful change — or amount only to empty promises.
While Starbucks publicly showed support for Black Lives Matter in internal communications, it prohibited employees from wearing Black Lives Matter clothing.
A Starbucks executive told employees, according to BuzzFeed News, that the apparel was prohibited because “agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles” of Black Lives Matter could use the clothing to “amplify divisiveness.”
A few days later, the company reversed course, saying it would make 250,000 Black Lives Matter shirts available to stores in the United States and Canada. In the meantime, it said, employees could wear their own shirts or pins.
Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens said in an open letter this month that the company condemns “all acts of racism, violence, or injustice” and promises to “listen even more carefully to our Black associates to better understand our own issues and work together to solve them.” Wawa vowed to add more programs that support black communities and pledged $100,000 a year for the next several years to the National Urban League, a civil rights organization focused on economic equality for black and brown communities.
Lynch said a Wawa executive called him Sunday, apologized for what happened, and told him about the pins the company planned to give employees. Lynch said he was offered his job back, but he still wouldn’t be able to wear any masks or clothing that showed support for Black Lives Matter.
Lynch, who worked at Wawa for more than a year, said he is deciding whether he wants to return.
Until Friday, he said, he had enjoyed his job and felt supported there. In fact, he received the Black Lives Matter mask from a Wawa customer whose friend designed it. When he wore the face covering during prior shifts, he said, customers would say “I like the mask” or “We support you.” Since he quit, he’s received “an outpouring of support" from his coworkers.
But as a black man, he said, he wants to show solidarity with people who have for weeks been protesting police brutality and systemic racism in Philadelphia and around the world.
His father, Andre Lynch Jr., said he felt an obligation to take his son’s story public on Saturday with a Facebook post, which has been shared more than 1,500 times.
“It didn’t sit right with me,” he said. “I don’t find it to be a political thing. You’re stating Black Lives Matter. You’re stating a human being’s life matters.”