Since 2017, the discount retail chain, Dollar General, has amassed $15 million in penalties for workplace safety violations. The most recent violation was issued to a Jersey Shore, Penn., store. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in response to a complaint, began an inspection at the store and identified safety violations similar to those discovered at stores operated by Dollar General throughout the United States. Inspectors found employees exposed to fire hazards due to blocked exit routes and obstructed electrical panels. OSHA issued a citation for willful violation and one repeat violation with $245,544 in proposed penalties. 

The Jersey Shore inspection is among more than 180 investigations nationwide in which OSHA has found the company jeopardizing worker safety.

“Exposing employees to these hazards can be dangerous, especially in an emergency,” said OSHA Area Director Mary Reynolds in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. “Dollar General Corp. has a substantial history of the same violations and hazards found at stores all around the U.S. They must end their repeated failures to correct these violations before an emergency turns tragic.”

Dollar General Corp. and Dolgencorp LLC operate about 18,000 stores and 17 distribution centers in 47 states and employ more than 150,000 workers.

Dollar General has been labeled a “severe violator” of workplace safety rules and added to the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). SVEP concentrates resources on inspecting employers that have demonstrated indifference to their OSH Act obligations by committing willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations. Dollar General will remain on the list for at least three years. 

There have been attempts to unionize Dollar General stores in the past. And recently, a new organization dedicated to helping Dollar store workers emerged, Dollar Store Workers United. The organization isn’t a union, says founder Mary Gundel, a former Dollar General manager who was fired in 2021 for posting now viral TikTok videos about the conditions of the store where she worked. Instead, it is a volunteer-run organization that helps other Dollar store employees win better pay, safer working conditions, and help with filing complaints with OSHA, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and local health and fire departments. According to Gundel, the organization has 19 state representatives, all current or former Dollar General employees.

Gundel told a local newspaper, “the challenge with unionizing at Dollar General is that store managers aren’t likely to be included in a unit, as they would probably be classified as supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act.” Gundel believes without store managers other workers would be too afraid to join a union. “They’re the ones the teams look up to.”