President Biden recently walked a picket line in solidarity with striking auto workers. An amazing sight.
What could he do for an encore? He could stand before another major American corporation — Dollar General — holding a simple two-word placard: “For Shame.”
Thanks to UAW members and the attention their strike has attracted, Americans now know a bit about the pressures auto workers face. As a nation, unfortunately, we know next to nothing about life for Dollar General workers.
With more outlets than Walmart and Wendy’s combined, Dollar General has become “America’s most ubiquitous retailer,” Bloomberg reported recently, and may now be the “worst” retail employer in the country.
Bloomberg sums up Dollar General’s corporate ethos this way: “Build as many stores as possible, pack them with tons of stuff while using as little warehouse space as possible, and spend as little as possible on everything else.”
That means spending as little as possible on basic store upkeep.
Businessweek investigators have “found expired products on Dollar General shelves,” from chicken soup in Louisiana to doughnuts in Illinois. In one Oklahoma store, birds nested in the ceiling and pooped down on the merchandise.
And as little as possible on safety.
Government inspectors have reported “fire extinguishers blocked by boxes” and “shaky, leaning towers of product” as high as nine feet tall. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year tagged Dollar General a “severe violator” of federal workplace safety law.
And, of course, Dollar General spends as little as possible on wages and workers.
One of every four Dollar General employees makes less than $10 an hour. Over half make under $12. Meanwhile entire stores go hours every day with only one employee responsible for an average 7,500 square feet of retail space.
This brutal approach has paid off handsomely for investors and executives. Dollar General’s stock price has quintupled since 2009. And the company reports that its CEO, who hauls in $16.6 million a year, makes 935 more than a “median” Dollar General employee.
Officially, the typical Dollar General worker makes just $17,773 a year. But even that measly figure may be an overstatement.
Researcher Rosanna Weaver reports that the company recently changed its median pay calculations by “annualizing” the wages of permanent employees who didn’t work a full year. Meanwhile, Dollar General actually understates CEO pay. The company’s executive compensation can run much higher than first reported once executives actually cash out their stock.
One example: After cashing out on a huge chunk of his stock awards, former CEO Todd Vlasos actually made nearly 4,500 times the annual pay of his 163,000 employees. He essentially made more in a single weekday — $328,000 — than his median employee could earn in 18 years.
All this “success” for Dollar General executives rests on a half-century of ever-greater American inequality. For two generations now, a shrinking share of U.S. income and wealth has gone into the pockets of America’s working families.
Thanks to this shrinking share, tens of millions of American families today couldn’t get by without the “bargain-basement” prices that dollar stores like Dollar General offer — at the expense of their customers’ health and safety and the economic security of their workers.
Moreover, that discounted food — often sold in “food-deprived areas” — comes highly processed, offers little in the way of nutritional value, and sits packaged within toxic, chemical-laden wrappings.
“Dollar General’s practices have an immense impact on communities across the country,” note advocacy attorneys Sara Imperiale and Margaret Brown, “especially communities of color and low-income communities.”
The U.S. economy isn’t delivering for American families — and that failure is delivering for corporate investors and executives. You’ll never find them doing their weekly food shopping at Dollar General.
How about a general strike against Dollar General?
This op-ed was adapted from Inequality.org and distributed for syndication by OtherWords.org.