‘Codes Being Broken Every Day’: Dollar General Safety Violations Alarm Workers

Portside Date:
Author: Michael Sainato
Date of source:
The Guardian

Dollar General, the retail chain with the largest number of stores in the US, has faced scrutiny from government safety regulators in recent months over dozens of violations and fines for “systemic hazards” at the discount retailer.

The chain has grown from more than 8,000 stores in 2008 to over 18,000 locations today in 47 states. That outsized growth has been accompanied by millions of dollars in penalties for safety violations and lawsuits over injured workers and customers.

Since 2017, Dollar General has received over $21m in proposed fines from Osha, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. More than 180 Dollar General stores have received fines from Osha, and the chain has been labeled a “severe violator” of safety rules by the US labor department. Inspectors have found aisles, emergency exits, fire extinguishers and electrical panels blocked by merchandise and unsafe stacking of boxes.

“Dollar General continues to expose its employees to unsafe conditions at its stores across the nation,” said the assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, Doug Parker, in Osha’s latest press release on Dollar General violations. “As one of the nation’s largest retailers, the company must focus its attention on resolving these issues and making corporate-wide changes to protect the safety and wellbeing of the people they employ.”

Dollar General has also faced numerous lawsuits over injuries sustained by workers and customers at their stores.

In January 2018, the Alabama supreme court upheld a verdict of $1.7m for a woman who slipped and fell on laundry detergent in a Dollar General store.

In April 2021, a jury awarded a customer in Lee county, Florida, over $350,000 after he slipped and fell on laundry detergent in a store.

In March, a jury in Alabama awarded a delivery driver $1.9m in their lawsuit against Dollar General after they were injured while delivering to a Dollar General store in Mobile, Alabama, without a loading ramp.

Workers say the safety issues at Dollar General go beyond the Osha citations and reflect low wages and overall poor working conditions. Dollar General reported a profit of $3.3bn in 2022 and the pay package of its chief executive, Todd Vasos, was worth more than $16.6m while the median employee made less than $20,000 annually.

“The robberies, there’s A/C issues, there are running water issues, issues with workers being left alone in the store, and with the Osha issues, there are codes being broken every day with boxes stacked to the ceiling and leaking roofs,” said Kenya Slaughter, a former Dollar General employee and organizer in Louisiana. “It’s extremely hazardous. They make enough money that it could’ve been fixed, why is it not being fixed?”

A Dollar General worker in South Carolina has accused the state Osha agency of improperly dismissing her complaint to Osha over issues in the Dollar General store, which was included in a broader civil rights complaint accusing the state agency of ignoring industries that are disproportionately staffed by Black workers.

TyBrianna Shaw, a Dollar General worker on strike, speaks through a megaphone.

TyBrianna Shaw, a Dollar General worker on strike, speaks through a megaphone. Photograph: Courtesy of Union of Southern Service Workers/Union of Southern Service Workers

TyBrianna Shaw, filed the complaint to Osha in South Carolina in January 2023, alleging her store had issues with mold, animal droppings in the store, improper stacking and storing of chemicals, a lack of safety equipment, inventory that blocked exits and posed safety risks to workers and extreme heat exposure as the air conditioning unit was broken. Shaw said the state dismissed her complaint without speaking to her after Dollar General sent the agency undated photos from a different store location that she recognized because she had previously worked there.

“I never heard from Osha after that. There was no follow-up. It was just, case closed,” said Shaw, who worked as an assistant manager before quitting Dollar General in April 2023. “We faced excessive roll trainers [carts for restocking shelves] in the aisles, blocking the exits and fire extinguishers. We would explain to them, our managers, things we were facing and they never took it seriously.”

Shaw went on strike in January 2023 with the only other full-time co-worker at her Dollar General store in Irmo, South Carolina, over safety issues, including lack of security and understaffing.

“Everyone deserves to be safe where they work,” said Shaw. “Dollar General should really take their workers more seriously and give them more than they give them. As an employee, we deserve so much more because we’re the ones making the company work and making the money, we’re the ones that make the customers come back.”

She continues advocating on behalf of workers at Dollar General as a member of the Union of Southern Service Workers, including pressure at Dollar General’s annual shareholder meeting on 31 May where the union is calling to pass a shareholder proposal for an independent audit on worker safety and wellbeing.

David Williams, a worker at a Dollar General in New Orleans, Louisiana for three years and a member of the community organization Step Up Louisiana, has participated in numerous actions to demand Dollar General improve wages, safety and working conditions.

“I go in most of the time during truck days and the store warehouse is already at capacity, sometimes you can’t get to the roll trainer you’re trying to get to. You have to maneuver and move stuff around hoping that you don’t hurt yourself trying to get to the product that you need,” said Williams. “There’s just way too much overkill on the product. When the main section in the store is filled up, you have to put out the extra product and there is no section for it because there is so much of it.”

He explained he had faced numerous issues with overstocked products, close calls with injuries and spills, and blamed the overstock issues on corporate ordering products without aligning the orders to the store capacity.

“We put our blood, sweat and tears into these companies that don’t give a damn about us,” he added. “Nobody cares about us like they say they do. If they really, truly care about our wellbeing, show us the money, show us the protection, show us the safety and better working conditions in all aspects of what we do.”

The South Carolina department of labor, licensing, and regulation declined to comment.

Dollar General did not comment on specific Osha citations or safety complaints from workers.

A spokesperson said in an email: “As a growing retailer serving thousands of communities across the country, Dollar General is committed to providing a safe work environment for its associates and shopping experience for its customers. We regularly review and refine our safety programs, and reinforce them through training, ongoing communication, recognition and accountability. When we learn of situations where we have failed to live up to this commitment, we work to timely address the issue and ensure that the company’s expectations regarding safety are clearly communicated, understood and implemented.”

Source URL: https://portside.org/2023-06-05/codes-being-broken-every-day-dollar-general-safety-violations-alarm-workers