Dollar General is considered a “serious violator” by the Labor Department.

For years, the Labor Department has implemented a serious offense enforcement program, which targets companies with unsafe working conditions, such as manufacturers or construction companies with a high number of injuries or fatalities.

In September, the ministry’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration Unit expanded the scope of the program to include any type of company that deliberately or repeatedly violated safety standards. The first to be added as part of the program’s expanded reach: Dollar General, one of the fastest growing retailers in the country.

Since January 2017, OSHA has inspected more than 270 Dollar General stores and found 111 cases of workplace safety violations. The agency also imposed more than $15.5 million in sanctions during that time, according to data provided by a White House official.

OSHA inspectors found issues such as clogged fire exits and boxes of merchandise cluttering aisles or stacked precariously.

In some cases, federal inspectors have visited a store to demand that a hazard be addressed, only to find during a follow-up visit that the problem was still there, according to two federal officials who spoke under the guise of anonymity to discuss the offences.

Fines represent a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars in sales that Dollar General generates each year. And until recently, officials said, the company was unwilling to engage with OSHA to address these issues generally, and it contested numerous penalties.

“What we have seen time and time again at Dollar General stores is that there are obvious and preventable hazards that put workers at risk,” said Douglas L. Parker, assistant secretary of labor for safety and health at work, in an interview.

The company said “we regularly review and refine our safety programs and reinforce them through training, ongoing communication, recognition and accountability.”

“When we learn of situations where we have failed to meet this commitment,” he added, “we strive to resolve the issue in a timely manner and ensure that the company’s security expectations are met. are clearly communicated, understood and implemented”.

OSHA and Dollar General are now in the very early stages of a settlement discussion to resolve the penalties and come up with a plan to improve certain conditions in the retailer’s stores, the two federal officials said. Dollar General has not commented on the settlement talks.

Dollar General, in many ways, is an obvious target for the Biden administration as it seeks to restore its pro-worker image.

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Based in Tennessee, Dollar General has expanded its store network at a rapid pace, opening thousands of stores during the pandemic. With 19,000 stores in the United States, Dollar General operates twice as many locations as Walmart and Target combined.

Even as its sales and profits soar, Dollar General faces mounting criticism from labor advocates and left-wing think tanks over wages that are among the lowest in the retail industry. and services and for failing to take basic precautions to prevent crime in its stores.

Despite the criticisms, Dollar General remains a profitable juggernaut that fills a void in rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods, where there often aren’t many other retailers selling cheap food and household goods.

During the five-year period that OSHA cited the company for violation, Dollar General’s stock price more than doubled.

“I’m glad OSHA isn’t waiting for tragedy to occur to document these dangers,” said Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University. “But at the same time, what is revealed by the many OSHA inspections and mounting fees is that Dollar General doesn’t care.”

McCartin said Dollar General was a case study in how OSHA’s leverage was limited by the size of the fines Congress had authorized it to levy. OSHA can charge a company up to $15,600 per day for up to 30 days if an unsafe condition is not resolved.

“When you have corporate fraud, which Dollar General has proven to be, the system needs to be toughened up,” McCartin said.

The security concerns go deeper than a few rogue stores, federal officials said in interviews. Dollar General’s business model is based on relatively small, light-staffed warehouse stores with high sales volume. Often there aren’t enough employees to unload a delivery truck and immediately stock the shelves, Parker said. This means that inventory can linger in the aisles, creating risks for employees and customers.

“A business model shouldn’t be built on breaking the law,” Anita Dunn, senior adviser to President Biden, said in an interview about OSHA’s findings on Dollar General. “The reality is that workers in this country are entitled to certain protections under the law, and this administration will enforce that.”

Inclusion in the serious offender program means that OSHA officials can randomly inspect a store, even if the agency has not received a specific complaint about working conditions. Some of Dollar General’s stores are among the 462 workplaces in this program.

The vast majority of Dollar General’s sanctions came in the past two years under the Biden administration. More broadly, Mr. Biden has bolstered OSHA enforcement by increasing its inspection staff by 20%.

The other major discount retailer, Dollar Tree, which also operates the Family Dollar chain, has also been repeatedly cited for security concerns. Since 2017, according to data provided by a White House official, Dollar Tree has been cited for 90 violations and fined $14 million, while Family Dollar has been cited 54 times and fined $5. millions of dollars.

“A safe workplace for our associates is our top priority,” a Dollar Tree spokeswoman said. “We are focused on maintaining a safe environment that complies with all health and safety regulations at our facilities. To this end, we continually improve our security programs and protocols. »

Dollar Tree, which is not part of the serious offender program, has made some staffing improvements and taken other steps, but is still in discussions with OSHA about a more comprehensive safety plan. , the two federal officials said.


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