By ERWIN FREED
On Wednesday, Oct. 20, over 50 union and community members came out to a rally in Barkhamsted, Conn., called by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 371 in support of Dollar General workers who are fighting to organize with the union. The union election will be on Friday, Oct. 22, and involves five current employees and one who was fired one day before qualifying to vote in the election.
Dollar General has a market capitalization of over $50 billion, and has more open locations than both Walmart and McDonald’s combined. The company had soaring profits in 2020, over $3.6 billion, and gave the CEO a massive raise and shareholders large returns. Dollar stores represent one third of all new stores opening in the U.S., and Dollar General alone plans to open 1000 by the end of the year. The average annual wage of Dollar General workers is $16,000 a year, less than $10/hour.
Dollar General members reached out to organizers with the UFCW in September, citing fear of arbitrary dismissal, low pay, and poor benefits as reasons for getting organized. They quickly met at a nearby Stop and Shop, whose employees are organized with UFCW 371 and 919, to discuss the union election process and signed cards calling for an election.
Harassment and unfair labor practices
Many chants at the rally were calling for the company to rehire a sixth worker, who was fired on Oct. 8, the day before the cut-off for election eligibility, in what can only have been an attack on a union supporter. The worker, Jake, who had been with the new Dollar General store for five months, has no disciplinary record and is a model employee. He was fired with no notice by the decision of high-level managers who have been brought to the store to union bust.
Local 371 filed unfair labor practice charges against Dollar General for Jake’s firing, as well as reducing work hours for union supporters and threatening to close the store if workers voted in favor of the union, all of which are illegal.
According to the workers and documents the company has submitted, Dollar General is paying five union-busting professionals each $2700 per day for 28 days—a total of $378,000 over less than a month—to surveil and harass workers at the shop. With five full-time employees in the store, that is a one-to-one ratio of union busters to workers. Assuming an eight-hour workday, the union busters are making over 26 times the hourly wage of the rank-and-file workers, who make the state minimum of $13/hour.
The company is doing everything it can to create an atmosphere of terror in the store. Speakers at the rally spoke of how on top of the union busting professionals, Dollar General has hired photographers to carry out regular surveillance of employees and union organizers. Workers in the store are subjected to “captive audience” meetings everyday during their shifts, often for hours. Captive audience meetings are a union-busting tactic meant to wear down workers through their sheer brutality.
One worker told the Guardian “[Dollar General] brought in union-busters to try to pick us off one by one. We’re not letting that happen. … I try all day just to stay away from them, which is very hard because they’re always following you, distracting you, pulling you out of the store, trying to talk to you. It’s so stressful. I’ve been having so much anxiety and stress I have to talk to a therapist.”
A successful “yes” vote will be an important step forward for all 143,000 Dollar General employees. The bravery and collective action of the six workers in Barkhamsted can serve as an important and inspiring example of the fact that the company is not invincible and depends for everything on the people that work in its over 17,000 locations.
The possibilities opened by having even one union shop in a small town in Connecticut are immense. The way forward for better lives for Dollar General workers is going to be to organize on a regional, statewide, and even national level to demand that the billions of dollars the company makes every year go to improving their livelihoods and not lining the pockets and bank accounts of executives and investors. Socialist Resurgence stands with the workers at Dollar General and everywhere who are fighting for basic organization and power.
Photo: Supporters stand with signs in front of Dollar General store in Connecticut. (Erwin Freed / Socialist Resurgence)
See the video: Dollar General workers speak out! (See below)