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Overworked And Understaffed Dollar General Workers Rally Against Cuts

Above Photo: Hundreds of workers rallied outside of the Dollar General corporate headquarters.  Step Up Louisiana.

Workers in the US rural variety store giant Dollar General protest the company’s cost-cutting policies.

Dollar General has been dubbed a “Severe Violator” of worker safety.

On May 31, Dollar General workers rallied and marched towards the annual meeting of company shareholders to demand safe working conditions in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. As workers mobilized, shareholders voted to approve a resolution put forward by a progressive-leaning investment firm to conduct an independent worker safety and well-being audit on the company, despite Dollar General advising shareholders to vote no. The company argues that it already performs its own safety checks and audits, while the investment firm claims that Dollar General is unclear if employee feedback at all informs its safety policies.

The action was organized by workers and advocates from organizations such as the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW), Step Up Louisiana, United for Respect, and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Their demands include safe staffing levels, paid time off and mental health compensation following violent incidents, a new and improved safety code, safer store infrastructure, and worker input on safety practices.

Dollar General has come under increasing scrutiny due to its abysmal reputation regarding worker safety. In September of 2022, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) widened the scope of it’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program from any company that has two or more willful or repeated violations of “high emphasis hazards” to any company with multiple willful or repeated violations of all hazards. Under the widened scope, Dollar General was the first company to be added.

The addition of Dollar General to the program is “unprecedented”, according to Debbie Berkowitz, a former chief of staff and senior policy advisor at OSHA. “[It’s] a program for the worst safety violators in the nation. It is totally rare for a large employer with many work sites to be in the severe violator program. Most companies in their program are small construction companies,” she told CNBC.

The crux of the safety violations, which is costing the company over USD 21 million in proposed fines, is chronic understaffing in order to cut costs and generate ever-increasing profits. As the New York Times reports, “Dollar General’s business model relies on lightly staffed and relatively small box stores with high sales volume.”

DG makes its enormous profits, which render the USD 21 million in fines a drop in the bucket, by staffing stores with only a store manager, one or more assistant managers and at least three sales associations. But this is merely the strategy on paper. In practice, it is much worse. Workers have shared viral videos of stores staffed with as few as one overwhelmed worker. Managers are often pressured to work as many as 90 hours a week in order to keep stores afloat with low staffing levels. This means that there are often not enough people to stock shelves right away or keep the store tidy, creating a buildup of stock and boxes that can block fire exits.

Having only one or two workers in a store leaves them “alone, overstretched, or vulnerable” to violence in high-crime areas, workers say. Robert Woods, a 42-year-old father, was shot and killed in 2018 while training an employee at the Dollar General he worked at in St. Louis, Missouri. The company would “bring security in and take them away, and then it would become a hostile situation again,” his daughter told ABC News. This is a symptom of Dollar General’s cost cutting on security, and nearly everything else, nationwide. Dollar General workers have been subject to violent robberies over the past few years that have left many workers injured. 49 people have been killed at DG stores since 2014, and 172 have been injured.

“I had a store manager, my store manager, older lady, passed out in the store. She was stuck at work by herself, she hadn’t had her insulin,” said a Dollar General worker at the May 31 rally. “She shouldn’t have been there by herself in the first place.”

“So these are the things that we’re fighting for. No one should be left in the store alone, we should have working air, we should have running water. We had a store shut down that didn’t have any water, you guys. They put a port-a-potty in the backyard of the store. I bet you they don’t have no port-a-potties at this corporate office!”

The company took off after it went public in 2009, filling the void of providing household needs to low income, rural communities. Dollar General reported a net profit of USD 2.4 billion last year. The current CEO, Jeffrey Owen, makes USD 12 million per year (Todd Vasos, who was CEO until November 2022, had a pay package of over USD 16 million in 2021). Meanwhile, the median employee income is under USD 20,000 per year and 92% of employees make under USD 15 per hour.

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