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This summer I went on strike at Dollar General in Holly Hill, South Carolina. My coworkers and I were standing up for our rights and fighting back against a company that put our safety at risk, stole our wages, and made it impossible for us to take care of our families.
Our organizing started when my coworker Tara Thompson called us to a meeting at her house. I said, “I don’t feel safe at work,” and everyone nodded. The store had been robbed three times since I’ve been here. One day a customer came into the store with a gun, having some mental health problems and talking about how he can’t trust anyone. I called the police for help, but they never came. And my Dollar General manager reprimanded me for calling them. My coworker was robbed at gunpoint, and just 10 minutes later management was pushing her to reopen the store.
At that first organizing meeting, we all agreed that Dollar General was not protecting us. We decided to draft a petition and make safety a top demand.
Wage theft is also a big issue at our store. I’ve had hours taken off my check — my Dollar General manager actually changed the record of my hours to say I’d worked less than I really had. And Dollar General expects us to work off the clock. It’s our job to take cash deposits to the bank at the end of our shift. This means a 15-minute drive each way to the bank, and we don’t get reimbursed for gas money. On top of that, management often clocks us out as soon as we leave the store, so we aren’t getting paid for that half-hour of work.
We agreed that ending wage theft needed to go in the petition, along with demanding a $15 hourly minimum wage, health care benefits, and a voice for workers. And I want to point out that we are not the only Dollar General workers standing up to demand changes at our store. There has been a rise of Dollar General worker organizing happening across the country, especially here in the South. Dollar General workers in North Carolina, Virginia, and Oklahoma held strikes this spring. Back in May, Tara and I went with fellow Raise Up members to protest the Dollar General shareholder meeting in Tennessee, where the company is headquartered. All this activity gave us momentum to push forward with our own petition.
We delivered our petition to Dollar General and threatened to strike if they didn’t respond. Within a few days, we had won a couple of our safety demands. Management cleared the fire hazards from the store aisles and cut down the bushes that hid our store from the street, so we’re not such an easy target for robberies. We’d been asking Dollar General to do this for months, but when we threatened to strike we finally got the company’s attention.
On July 16, five days after delivering our petition, we decided to go ahead with our strike to push for the rest of our demands. We wanted to let Dollar General know that we weren’t playing around.
The Saturday we went on strike was a powerful day for me. We chanted and made speeches in front of the store. Lots of our regular customers saw us in the parking lot and decided not to go inside, because they supported our demands. I felt like we were standing up for ourselves and for all the other underpaid, unappreciated workers who needed a change. I knew that my voice was going to make a difference.
I had the same powerful feeling when I stood up in a room full of other low-wage workers and shared what I had learned about the best way to organize your workplace. This is what I did at the Worker Power Trainings that I and other members of Raise Up — the Southern branch of Fight for $15 and a Union — held in Durham, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and Atlanta this summer. These trainings were organized by Raise Up to give workers a chance to learn from each other and get the basic tools to start talking to your coworkers. At each training, we had a worker speak out where I shared how we took action at my store. My organizing partners, Tara Thompson and Keshia Brown, also spoke at the trainings and helped tell our story of winning some demands but deciding it was not enough.