Dollar General Workers Strike Over Unsafe Working Conditions

20 Jan, 2023 Liz Carey


Irmo, SC ( – Workers at a Dollar General in Irmo, S.C., said they’re striking because of unsafe working conditions.  

According to the Union of Southern Service Workers, two of the four employees at the Dollar General store will walk out for two days to protest hazardous working conditions that include mold and animal droppings in store room, spilled chemicals, a lack of safety equipment, inventory blocking fire exits and working in extreme heat without air conditioning.  

Officials said the employees had reported the working conditions to the South Carolina Occupational Health and Safety Administration.  

The strike is just the latest accusation of unsafe working conditions for Dollar General. Since 2017, OSHA has fined Dollar General more than $12 million for unsafe working conditions at stores in across the country. Last year between August and December, the agency assessed more than $6 million in proposed penalties after inspections found unsafe conditions including blocked fire exits, boxes stacked too high and other hazards.  

In October, OSHA placed four of the company’s locations in the Southeast on the “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” The designation allows OSHA to inspect any of Dollar General’s 18,100 stores within its jurisdiction. Previously, store inspections were prompted by employee complaints of unsafe working conditions.  

“We will use our full enforcement powers to hold Dollar General accountable for its ongoing pattern of behavior until they show that they take worker safety seriously,” OSHA Assistant Secretary Doug Parker said in a statement at the time. 

Started in 2010, the severe violator program was initially focused on industries considered by the Department of Labor to be especially dangerous like construction, chemical production or metal smelting. But worker advocates prompted OSHA to make changes, arguing focusing on those industries as dangerous let other companies off easy.  

On Sept. 15, 2022, the agency revised the severe violator program requirements to include any employer with multiple willful or repeated violations.  

“Even if it is not a high-hazard industry, it is a high-hazard workplace,” Parker said when announcing the new criteria. 

Once a part of the program, employers stay on the list for three years after they have corrected a hazard and hasn’t been cited for any new violations for the same hazard. Employers can get off the list in two years if they implement changes that include the use of an OSHA recommended safety and health management system. Or employers can appeal the citations to a review commission and be removed from the list if a judge or other federal official to dismiss or reduce the violations that put it on the list.  

Eric Lucero, a media spokesperson for OSHA, said it was too soon to tell if being placed on the Severe Violator program had any effect.  

“Dollar General was recently added to the Severe Violator Enforcement Program,” he said in an email interview. “It is premature to determine if placing Dollar General in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program has had any impact on stores’ conditions.” 

Lucero said OSHA attempts to follow-up on inspections within one year, and no longer than two years after the citation becomes a final order. Companies that are cited are offered an opportunity to have an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss the issues. At that time, he said, the agency and the company may work out settlements to correct any problems and eliminate the hazards.  

In Irmo, workers said they were demanding to work in non-hazardous work environments free of OSHA violations. Additionally, they asked for fair pay, fair and consistent scheduling, more staff so there is always more than one person working at a time, and better treatment of employees when it comes to wage theft and respect.  

Miranda Chaves, one of the striking employees, told local television stations WACH that she had been promised a 75 cent raise three months ago when she became a store “keyholder,” but that she had not yet received an accurate paycheck. Officials told the station she only makes $11 an hour.  

“I’ve never been paid so little, been treated this badly by management, or been lied to about my paycheck,” Chaves told WACH. “I couldn’t believe that a billion dollar company can pay their employees so little. Our store is dangerously understaffed because Dollar General is thinking about their bottom line. It seems like they would rather pay OSHA fines than hire enough staff to run the store safely and effectively.” 

Union officials said the two employees have also filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in response to alleged union-busting threats from management. 

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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