Pearl River The movement moment of workers standing up to employers to demand their rights, and, in many cases, seek to organize a union to protect and advance those rights in the future, continues to pick up steam. The evidence continues to mount. More than 200 petitions have now been filed by Starbucks workers, including one in Uptown New Orleans recently. Two different unions were in the news, both SEIU and CWA organizing workers at totally nonunion Apple fancy retail outlets, with CWA actually filing for an NLRB certification election in Atlanta. All these actions by workers around the USA are exciting and encouraging, but none more so that hearing about worker activity at Dollar General stores.
If you’ve never been in a Dollar General store, you may not know what I’m talking about, so let me say it this way. There is only the smallest chance that the customer base of a Dollar General and a Starbucks overlap, except in desperation. Apple is everywhere, but the odds that someone shopping in an upscale Apple emporium in Manhattan would be in line at a Dollar General is also slim, except in an emergency. And, even when the customer base might by happenstance intersect, the standard issue worker behind the counter at a Dollar General as opposed to a Starbucks for example also doesn’t fit exactly the same profile. Dollar General stores and the ones like them have become ubiquitous in low-and-moderate income neighborhoods in urban America, where they are also often the only alternative in food deserts. So common in fact that some city councils have tried to limit their expansion in lower income areas. They have long been a staple outlet on county and country roads filling the gaps between big box Walmart stores and what’s left of what older customers might remember as regular grocery store.
Times are changing. A young store manager in Tampa named Mary Gundel, who loved working at Dollar General, finally hit her limit after working endlessly without staff or support during the pandemic. She started reaching out about her issues with the company and its operations on TikTok on her iPhone. Yes, her iPhone. I didn’t say all kinds of folks don’t have iPhones, but that doesn’t mean that many have been hanging out in the upscale retail Apple stores. Dollar General and its workers are in the community and, usually, of the community from our experience. Gundel hit a cord. 1.8 million watched her TikTok series. She’s now mobilizing them from place to place to organize. She has appointed representatives to handle questions, problems, and organize in 16 states.
Our office visited with Gundel at some length offering to lend a hand, if there was anything we might be able to do to help. She and her co-workers are planning a walkout in early May to bring more attention to their organizing among customers, co-workers, and, obviously, the company.
Who knows how that will turn out? Regardless, the upsurge among workers for unions has now leeched down as far as Dollar General, and that’s something. This is movement moment that demands all of our support and encouragement!