business news in context, analysis with attitude

Bloomberg Businessweek has a cover story about Dollar General, which it describes as "America’s most ubiquitous retailer," with more than 19,000 US locations, "more than Walmart Inc. and Wendy’s Co. combined. Its main competitor, Dollar Tree Inc., has thousands fewer, even after acquiring rival Family Dollar some years back. Dollar General’s stores seem to be among the country’s last retail outlets that haven’t heard of inflation. A dollar there can buy you a couple of bananas, a yogurt, a bar of soap, a tube of lip gloss, a jump rope or a water gun."

However, Dollar General's stores "are often dirty, miserable and dangerous, according to dozens of people who’ve worked for Dollar General in 14 states (some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their jobs), as well as thousands of pages of government inspection records reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek."

The story points out that "Dollar General has failed hundreds of government safety inspections since 2017, racking up more than $25 million in proposed fines for alleged violations spanning dozens of states. That includes $9 million issued last year, double the fines aimed at Dollar Tree. OSHA has accused Dollar General of repeatedly, sometimes willfully, exposing employees to needless risks - of being struck by falling products, electrocuted by unsafe equipment, sickened by poor pest control or trapped in a fire. The agency says the company failed to protect staff it ordered to clean up a chemical spill in North Dakota, and it neglected to notify the government as required when a worker was hospitalized in Texas. Employees say bare-bones staffing, hectic expansion and broad neglect have made the stores dangerous in other ways, too. Expired products stay on the shelves. Busted heating and air-conditioning units go unrepaired. Rushed workers get stabbed in the stomach by equipment and scratched on the face by falling action figures. Without dedicated security staff, clerks face down aggressive customers on their own.

"If Dollar General is in the running for America’s worst retail job, the pay doesn’t much help. Most of its employees make less than $12 an hour, and close to 1 in 4 make less than $10, according to an Economic Policy Institute study of 2021 survey data. That puts it below Walmart, which raised its hourly minimum to $12 in 2021 and bumped it to $14 this year."

You can read the entire story here.

KC's View:

Read this story, and like me you may come away thinking that "worst retail job in America" line actually could be an understatement.

“We strive each day to be a force for opportunity in the communities we serve, and we take seriously our responsibility to provide a safe and healthy store environment,” Dollar General said in a statement responding to a detailed inquiry from Businessweek. “On those occasions where we fail to meet these expectations, we work with our store teams to promptly address any issues.”

But for the most part, its responses seem like weak sauce.  I know the company is contesting many of the charges against it, but it almost sounds as if they are spending more money on lawyers than they are on staffing and maintaining a safe working environment.

If the charges stick, the penalties ought to increase exponentially - regulators ought to make it increasingly unprofitable to operate this way.