Redeye, the indie distributor based in Hillsborough, N.C., found itself the object of stark public criticism on social media by past employees of color, after proclaiming support for Black Lives Matter on its Facebook page.
As a result of that public dialogue, Redeye announced a series of steps it would take to build a diverse and open workplace environment. At the same time, it said that it made staffing changes, without specifying why or giving details. But a letter to its employees, obtained by Billboard through an anonymous tip line, noted that four employees had been terminated.
The catalyst for the changes was apparently a post by the company itself on its Facebook page in early June announcing solidarity with Black Lives Matter following nationwide protests over the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. That statement from Redeye prompted comments from 14 people claiming to be past employees, accusing the company of paying lip service to the cause but showing a pattern of ignoring complaints about unfair treatment towards people of color.
Several of those comments attributed a hostile work environment to one specific employee, who apparently was one of the staffers that has subsequently been let go. Of the four employees who were terminated, two held corporate-level titles, sources say.
After a week of feedback from past and present employees, distributed labels, artists and industry partners, the company said in a June 18 statement posted to its Facebook page, “It is clear that we have not been a strong enough ally in the past to POC [people of color]. … We have taken immediate action including staffing changes, while making plans to build an increasingly diverse and open workplace.”
Going forward, Redeye pledged to undertake a human rights impact assessment of its business; provide ongoing anti-bias/diversity and equity-inclusion training with the help of third parties; implement human rights policy training for all Redeye leadership; and conduct a quarterly anonymous survey seeking employee feedback, which it is beginning July 1.
Redeye said its goal is to achieve a workplace that is inclusive and safe for all employees by committing to employing people of color at all levels of the organization. The company — which owns the Yep Roc label — also committed to expanding recruitment efforts to a diverse pool of applicants of color with the help of third party guidance and a restructuring of human resources, also with the help of third party guidance.
In a June 12 email to label partners and obtained by Billboard, Redeye detailed its immediate actions. But speaking to Billboard, Redeye co-founder Glenn Dicker refused to speak about staff changes.
“We try to be this great indie distribution company that does services above and beyond for our label partners, but now we realize that in addition to being a great company for our label partners, we have to make sure that all of our staff feels the same kind of commitment to them from management,” Dicker told Billboard. “The first step was implementing a living wage, which we already had an internal commitment to get there over time, even with the small margins we work on. When we moved out of Haw River [in Alamance County] and brought this warehouse office space to Hillsborough in Orange County, [North Carolina] three years ago, we met with the Orange County Living Wage group.”
That’s a non-profit group which has a goal of having its member companies, which now includes Redeye, pay a living wage of $14.90 per hour, or $13.40 if there are company-supplied healthcare benefits — in a state that has a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (As of June 23, Redeye has been officially certified as an Orange County Living Wage Employer.) As it is, before all these latest steps, Redeye provided its employees with healthcare and a 401(K) investment plan, with the company matching employee contributions.
In an update sent to label partners today, obtained by Billboard, Redeye said that by August 1 it would create a number of new initiatives or complete some ongoing initiatives already started in June, including creating ongoing education committee to share articles, books and films weekly to the entire staff; a full review of the Redeye employee handbook, focusing on policies related to racial justice, diversity, sexual and other unlawful harassment policies with third-party oversight; and a review of third-party proposals for leadership, staff and new employee training with a final decision to be reached by July 15. The company has also participated in multiple meetings regarding third-party human rights impact assessment, with proposals to come from that process shortly.
Finally, the company says U.S. Election Day — this year Nov. 3, 2020 — will be a full-day paid holiday for employees.
As part of its efforts to develop a more diverse workplace, Dicker says, “We need to work on our recruitment efforts. In the past we have been to speak at places like the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State. But there are a number of [historically black colleges and universities] in the area, like Shaw University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T State University, and we need to go to these schools and engage with those students to try and recruit them by hopefully painting a beautiful picture of how great the music business is for a career.”
This reachout has apparently already begun, per the latest communication with label partners, with the goal of having points of contact and action plans in place by Aug. 1. Parallel to that effort, the company will begin an employee mentorship program by the same date. Finally, the company says it will update “core values” by Sept. 1.
The initial letter to label partners and employees detailing steps taken closes, “In the spirit of transparency and accountability, we will continue to update everyone on an ongoing basis. We are 100% committed to getting this right and we are grateful for your partnership and feedback over these last several days. Much more to come.”
At first, “It was incredibly disappointing to read and hear directly about these incidents,” Dicker said in a statement to Billboard. “We are learning from these experiences and have taken immediate and direct action to ensure that Redeye is a welcoming environment for everyone on our team now and in the future. We are steadfast in our determination to foster an environment where people feel valued and their voices are heard.”