business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of emails today…

Yesterday we took note of what I thought was a terrific story in the New York Times about how a Dollar General store manager went from being one of its top employees to a fired dissident who now is "trying to build what she calls a 'movement' of workers who feel overworked and disrespected and is encouraging Dollar General employees to form a union."

The manager, Mary Gundel, loved her job, but was frustrated by the working conditions and the sense that she was unheard by unheard by corporate.  So, she decided to post a six-part video on TikTok, in which she "laid bare the working conditions inside the fast-growing retail chain, with stores that are a common sight in rural areas," conceding as she did so that she could get in trouble for her videos.   But, she said, "Whatever happens, happens. Something needs to be said, and there needs to be some changes, or they are probably going to end up losing a lot of people."

She got fired.

Dollar General released a statement saying, “We provide many avenues for our teams to make their voices heard, including our open-door policy and routine engagement surveys. We use this feedback to help us identify and address concerns, improve our workplace and better serve our employees, customers and communities. We are disappointed any time an employee feels that we have not lived up to these goals and we use those situations as additional opportunities to listen and learn … Although we do not agree with all the statements currently being made by Ms. Gundel, we are doing that here."

I commented:

First of all, Dollar General is full of it.  If management really cared and wanted to learn, it would've kept Mary Gundel inside the tent, empowering her to help identify and solve the problems.  That might've given her a better understanding of the broader problems, and given them a different, front lines-centric appreciation for the issues.

Gundel went public not because she didn't care, or hated the company, but because she loved her job and the company - enough to risk her career.

C-level execs who do not get that ought to lose their jobs.  It is that simple.

Go into a competitive battle with an army of people like Mary Gundel, and you can conquer the world.  If I were another Tampa-area retailer, I'd reach out to her immediately … tap into that passion, and use it to create a business model more in synch with front line realities.

One MNB reader responded:

I disagree with the approach as personal accountability would dictate otherwise.  She is free to resign if she doesn't like her working conditions.  While it's an option to look poorly upon the company.  Let's look honestly at the employee.  Accept the things one cannot change and change the things one can.  (Resign.)  What does it have to do with anything or anyone else?  Another person might have been practicing acceptance each and every day in the face of such challenges and worked towards ideals, never wavering in the face of such insurmountable odds.  Just because this person didn't like the working conditions doesn't mean the company is wrong or bad.  To publicly put the company on notice?  It was a call for action from her, by the company, to do exactly what they did.  Terminate.  She didn't have the courage to change the things she could.  Maybe this will help her learn a great lesson.  

I disagree.  For one thing, there seems to be some evidence that her situation is anything but isolated.

MNB reader Roy Dacke wrote:

After a recent move landed me within walking distance of a Dollar General in St Petersburg, FL I’ve had several opportunities to witness these overworked employees. There are frequently only two visibly tired and loudly complaining employees holding down the entire store. Dollar General is trying to saving a buck off the sweat of their worker’s brows. Meanwhile the products on the shelves are what I call “fake cheap” predatory products whose low sticker prices are only owed to small package sizes with a high unit price.  DG gives a bad shake to both customers and employees.

From another MNB reader:

I sent in an email 4/5 years ago about having to stop at a DG store for Tylenol for my dad on Thanksgiving. (Only store open, that says a lot). Employee working had been by herself from 8-3. No bathroom break or anything. Bet the c-suite team enjoyed their holiday. 

I worked retail all my life, have hired ex DG people every chance. They enjoyed working in our environment much more.

Their store conditions as a whole are horrible, not because of worker apathy but because of lack of workers. Low prices come with a downside, lower wages and less labor. 

And from another:

Being a store manager anywhere is tough, but Dollar General store managers are known to work long hours, since a DG store doesn’t have that many employees to start with.  If Mary was making $51,000 a year, my guess is that she probably worked in excess of 60 hours a week.  That would mean that her pay equates to roughly $16.34/hour.  She was dedicated, loved her job, wanted to make the company better, and they fired her because she spoke up.

Of the people I know who have worked at DG in store operations, all are ex-employees. Knowing that they have high turnover, they fire a store manager in their “top 5%”, because she had an opinion on how to make the company better.  Dedication and hard work are assets that any company will value.  My hope is that Mary never looks back and instead runs towards the future. 

From still another:

In my 40+ years in retail and wholesale leadership, the 18 months I spent with Dollar General was the worst 18 months of my life!

Weighing in on the broader subject of labor issues and unionization, one MNB reader wrote:

A year ago January I retired after 45 years in the CPG world. Wonderful memories. After starting as a retail sales rep. I got an MBA and enjoyed exciting roles in sales and marketing management.  But to this day I have my United Steelworkers Union card in my wallet.  I worked in a PA. steel foundry in the early 70’s to pay for college.  Yes, unions over the years have worked to the detriment of industries and even their own members.  However, I have been on the other side and agree that “management” to often is unsympathetic and greedy in their treatment of workers.  The best way to “fight” a union is to honor your workers, verbally and materially.

From another reader:

I am currently semi-retired as the VP/GM of a regional C-store chain … We have struggled immensely with staffing and worked extremely hard to keep our stores open, compensate people fairly, and serve our mostly rural communities.

I agree that you have to be careful to not be too far removed from the front lines. During the height of the hiring crunch we went out to stores to help, myself included. We cleaned bathrooms, swept parking lots, stocked coolers, etc. This did not relieve the hiring crunch and only slightly helped at store level, but we sent a message that we were in the battle with them. It helped.

Maybe that is what Starbucks and Dollar General need to do. Go out and work in stores. When there is a shortage of workers it is tough or nearly impossible to solve, regardless of pay, but what you can do is work shoulder to shoulder, even if it is only 1-2 days a week.

Sounds like your company doesn't have the problem I am describing.

Yesterday MNB pointed out an Axios report that the California legislature is considering a bill "that would cut the workweek to four days for companies with more than 500 employees … California's AB2932 would change the definition of a workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours for employers with more than 500 employees, and require overtime pay for eligible employees after that."

I commented:

Count me among the opponents.

This is the kind of stuff that gives liberals a bad name.

I cannot imagine what the rationale is for California making this kind of legal change, which not only would cost companies a lot of money, but would also create upheaval for a lot of companies' operations and cultures.

MNB readers know that I am all in favor of companies being more compassionate toward their employees … that they need to treat workers like assets and not costs … and that for too long executive compensation packages have been way too generous when compared to the frugality mindset often employed on the front lines.

But unilaterally saying that anyone who works at a company with more than 500 employees needs to be paid overtime once they go beyond 32 hours?  This just strikes me as unreasonable and badly timed especially in view of broad staffing shortages.

I believe in creating as pro-worker environment, but the worst thing a government can do for workers is create an anti-business environment, which this does.  A little balance would be nice.  I also believe that judicious government regulation is not necessarily a bad thing … but this is way over the line.

One MNB reader wrote:

As a Californian, I TOTALLY agree with you.

And from another MNB reader:

I'm a liberal who loves living in California, and I agree with you that this is a terrible idea. I also think the actual bill has no chance of passing, and if we scrutinized the docket in all 50 states we'd find all sorts of wacky legislation that reinforces whatever stereotypes we have for each state but won't get passed and therefore isn't really relevant. What's frustrating for me is how easy some of our CA politicians make it to reinforce stereotypes like this about CA. We're our own worst enemy at times.

Just to be clear about this, I don't want to be lumped in with the California bashers.  It is one of my favorite places in the country, I loved going to school there, and California is one of the places to which I would move tomorrow if it were entirely up to me.

Another MNB reader chimed in:

As the saying goes “there must be something in the water in California “.  Every time you think they have reached the peak of insanity, they fine something new.  Talk about chasing businesses out of the state.  This is what happens when lifelong politicians without business experience, propose laws.  There is so much wrong with this proposal, that you could fill a book.   One ironic thing is the companies with under 500 employees would have much harder times recruiting.  If you are an hourly associate and have a choice of making $600 for 32 hours or 40 hours , where would you work.  

The concept of working flexible schedules make sense and is a recruiting advantage, such as 4 ten hour days which gives employees the 3 days off and reduces commuting by one day.  This is the type of flexibility the politicians should be encouraging. 

But another MNB reader, Mike Sommers, disagreed:

Surprised by the hard stance you took on this one.  The Axios article answers your question about what rationale California used to make this change, but since you missed it, “Proponents say a four-day workweek, which has been tried in Europe and is popular with many workers, would boost productivity, work/life balance, and mental and physical health”.  If not for the labor movement, there wouldn’t be a 2 day weekend, or the federal holiday, Labor Day.  How is your marketing plan for the horse buggies coming along?  Maybe you could consider switching professions, I hear cutting ice out of lakes and delivering to homes is the new up and coming trend.  Or maybe you could manufacture and sell rotary phones.  I kid, sort of...

But another MNB reader wrote:

Congratulations Kevin, you are starting to sound like a true conservative. Welcome to the land of logical and level headed thinking.

I am conservative about some things, liberal about others, and like to think that I actually relatively centrist and open-minded about most issues … But the only "true" thing I am is skeptical about anybody who thinks their way is the only logical and level-headed approach to anything.