By Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN
New York (CNN) — Dollar General is the fastest-growing retailer in America, opening about 1,000 stores a year. But following repeated violent incidents and federal workplace safety violations at stores, some Dollar General workers and labor advocates are calling for stronger safety and health protections.
Workers and their allies are rallying Wednesday outside Dollar General’s headquarters in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting to protest conditions. They say the company is failing to take basic precautions to prevent violence in its stores.
Since 2014, there have been 49 people killed and 172 people injured at Dollar General stores, according to data from non-profit group Gun Violence Archive. A CNN investigation in 2020 found that at least six store employees died during armed robberies from 2016 to 2020.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited unsafe conditions at dozens of Dollar General stores in recent years.
Since 2017, the federal agency has proposed more than $21 million in fines against Dollar General. Inspectors commonly found aisles, emergency exits, fire extinguishers and electrical panels blocked by merchandise and boxes stacked unsafely, according to the agency.
Dollar General’s position in poor communities, especially in the South where gun laws and worker protections are lax, contribute to this violent trend, former company executives, store employees, law enforcement officials and retail security experts have previously told CNN.
In October, Dollar General was added to OSHA’s “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” The program devotes agency resources to employers cited for “willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations and for showing indifference” to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
Violence is not unique to Dollar General. Retail stores are the second most common location for mass shootings (after the workplace), according to the Violence Project, non-profit group. But workers say the company should be doing more to protect their safety and that businesses practices such as understaffed stores are making them unsafe.
Dollar General employees and advocacy group Step Up Louisiana are calling for the company to create a new staff position to promote safety in stores; allocate more hours and employees to stores so that no worker is ever alone inside; provide paid time off and compensation for mental health resources after violent or dangerous incidents in stores; and give workers more input into safety policies.
“Dollar General continues to expose its employees to unsafe conditions at its stores across the nation,” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said in a statement this month. The company must make “corporate-wide changes to protect the safety and well-being of the people they employ,” he said.
Domini Impact Investments, an activist investment firm, has also introduced a shareholder resolution calling for an independent auditor to evaluate Dollar General’s workplace safety policies. The auditor should examine staffing levels at stores and consult with workers to design solutions, Domini says.
Dollar General’s board of directors has called on shareholders to reject the proposal, calling it unnecessary. The company says it performs hundreds of safety checks and audits occur each day across its stores and engages employees on their feedback and concerns.
Dollar General did not respond to request for comment from CNN on its worker safety demands.
The rally and shareholder resolution reflect a growing push to call attention to workplace conditions at Dollar General. The company has roughly 19,000 stores nationwide, mainly in rural areas, and its workforce has grown to about 160,000 people. Around 92% of Dollar General’s hourly workers make less than $15 per hour, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute and the Shift Project.
Workers are also protesting over safety conditions in Dollar Tree stores.
That company, which also owns the Family Dollar chain, has been cited for more than 300 federal and state OSHA workplace safety violations since 2017.
“The company’s repeated and continued disregard for human safety suggests the company thinks profits matter more than people,” OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta said in February.
Dollar Tree did not respond to comment on OSHA violations.
Dollar Tree is facing a shareholder resolution around worker pay at its annual meeting next month. Dollar Tree employs more than 200,000 people. It reports median worker pay as $13,490, below the federal poverty line.
The proposal, brought by activist investment firm United Church Funds, called on the company to publish a report on whether Dollar Tree has compensation and workforce practices that prioritize the company’s bottom line over the economic and social costs of income inequality.
The company’s board said it offers competitive pay and benefits for employees, and has increased compensation for workers over the past two years. The board called on shareholders to reject the proposal.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.