- Dollar General's shareholders approved a proposal to audit how the retailer handles its workers' safety.
- The vote at Dollar General's annual meeting came as employees protested in support of the audit.
- Dollar General stores have been cited by OSHA and local authorities for safety hazards for years.
Dollar General workers who have expressed concerns about their safety for years have finally gotten the attention of company shareholders.
Shareholders have approved a proposal that asks for an audit of worker safety at Dollar General stores, according to preliminary results of a proxy vote announced at the retailer's annual meeting on Wednesday. The proposal asks for a third-party audit of how Dollar General's policies and their implementation at stores affects workers' well-being.
Domini US Impact Equity Fund, which says on its website that it uses its investments "to create a more fair and sustainable world," presented the proposal at the annual meeting. Outside the site of the meeting in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, Dollar General workers from around the US demonstrated in support of the proposal and asked the company to do more to protect them at work.
A Dollar General spokesperson confirmed that the audit was approved according to preliminary results. "We encourage employees to share their feedback through the many Company-provided channels so that we can listen and work together to address concerns and challenges, as well as to celebrate successes," the spokesperson said.
The company's board of directors recommended that investors vote against the proposal, according to proxy documents. It called a third-party audit proposal "unnecessary" and listed various ways the company manages employee safety and well-being.
Dollar General has grown its store network over the last several years. It operates close to 20,000 stores in the US. In March, it opened its first-ever international location in Mexico. The retailer is also expanding its offerings in fresh groceries, banking services, and mobile healthcare clinics.
But employees and shoppers say that many of Dollar General's stores are understaffed and overrun with merchandise. The problem has gotten so bad at some stores that local fire marshals have forced them to close because unpacked merchandise is blocking fire exit paths. Employees have also gotten injured on the job, while others have been murdered while working at the stores, CNN reported.
OSHA has called Dollar General a "severe violator"
David Williams, an employee at a Dollar General store, said he and his colleagues at other locations go to work scared of the dangers that they will encounter there. He presented the shareholder proposal for an audit at the annual meeting on behalf of Domini.
"We're scared because we know that the leaders of Dollar General are not looking out for the safety of workers," Williams said. "The company has expanded it so fast and so recklessly that on any given day, I might have to deal with a rat infestation, a door they won't lock or someone pointing a gun at me with no security to protect me."
Safety hazards at Dollar General stores have also gotten the attention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, which has proposed fines on Dollar General of $21 million since 2017. The company's violations are severe and frequent enough that Dollar General earned a "severe violator" designation from OSHA in March.
The proposal's passage marks a win for Dollar General workers, Mary Beth Gallagher, director of engagement at Domini Impact Investments, said in a statement.
"Dollar General has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for its employees, and it now has clear support from its shareholders to do this," said Gallagher.
"We hope the company will act quickly to conduct an independent audit, incorporating worker and customer input, so root causes can be identified, and the process can begin to make system-wide improvements to the safety at its stores, so that workers no longer have to worry if they will come home from work safely," she added.
Do you work or shop at a Dollar General store or have a story to share? Reach out to Alex Bitter at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the encrypted messaging app Signal at (808) 854-4501.