New Orleans Through the Workers Organizing Support Center we are regularly in touch with workers at the nation’s dollar stores. All of which made us pleased to read the long story in The American Prospect featuring the work and activism emerging as these workers start to organize. As Bryce Covert points out,
Employees across the country work in dollar stores that are understaffed and sometimes unsafe. They have had to deal with rat infestations, broken air conditioners in the summer heat, and even workplace violence. The wages are also among the lowest in retail. According to the Economic Policy Institute and The Shift Project, 92 percent of Dollar General employees make less than $15 an hour.
Frankly, as we’ve found in discussions with the workers and participation on their private Facebook groups, that’s not the half of it. The stories they tell are hair-raising, detailing some of the worse, near-sweatshop conditions in modern retail.
We were especially pleased that they are listening to what Mary Gundel, now a former Dollar General worker, has to say. Gundel in many ways started this ball rolling with a series of Tik-Tok videos about her experiences managing a store near Tampa. We’ve collaborated with Mary and other dollar store workers to found Dollar Store Workers United, but as Mary told the American Prospect, it won’t be an easy fight, as they report…
…Gundel has started her own organization, Dollar Store Workers United, to act in many of the ways that a union might. The organization has logged contacts from over 20,000 dollar store workers, and has had phone or video calls with four or five thousand of them. Her team has been calling regional and district managers on their behalf to raise issues, as well as filing complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and local health and fire departments. “If nothing gets done about it, they basically just make it public knowledge,” she said, posting about the issue on LinkedIn and tagging the corporate entity and executives.
Dollar Store Workers United currently has 19 state representatives, all of them current or former Dollar General employees, who handle local employees’ concerns, and three board members who make big organizational decisions. Damien Zurawski is the chief field officer. He worked at Dollar General for most of last year and now works for Family Dollar. As soon as he saw Gundel’s TikToks, he reached out. Now he works with her “almost every day on my free time,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can for all of this to be volunteer and almost all of us working full-time jobs.”
With more than 35,000-dollar stores in the USA and likely more than 100,000 workers, at least if all the positions were filled, this won’t be an easy climb, but these are workers and stores are ubiquitous in our communities, especially in rural, minority, and low-and-moderate income neighborhoods. They deserve better. They are in it to win it, and we’re with them 100%.