Worker Resistance Continues as Maine Dollar General Employees Walk Off the Job
Low pay and the company’s disrespect for its workers led to employees quitting en masse last Monday and Tuesday in Eliot, Maine
Citing disrespectful treatment and low wages, all but one of the employees of the Dollar General store in the small town of Eliot, Maine walked off the job on Monday and Tuesday.
One of the signs left behind by Brendt Erikson and Hannah Barr on the door to the Dollar General in Eliot, Maine. Photo: Nate Theriault
Andy O’Brien, communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, said that the walk-out is part of a national trend.
“The Dollar General walk-out in Eliot is yet another example of service sector workers realizing the true value of their labor after suffering with low wages, poor treatment and lousy working conditions,” O’Brien told me. “While business owners are constantly whining and complaining about how they can’t find enough people to work for them, they still refuse to pay living wages to attract employees and now the workers are resisting.”
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“The workers are resisting”
The store’s manager quit on Sunday after being forced—as a salaried employee—to work a schedule that left her making less than minimum wage.
“She told us she quit because she was tired of working 70 hours getting paid for 40,” said Hannah Barr, one of the two employees who quit the next day.
The company is “clearly exploiting salaried employees by forcing them to work 70-80 hour weeks, seven days a week for the same pay as if they were working a standard 40 hour week,” said O’Brien.
“These managers have told us they are essentially on call 24 hours a day and the company refuses to take the measures needed to recruit more staff like offering better pay,” he added.
Employee Brendt Erikson said that he asked the company on Sunday after the manager quit to tell the staff what to do and what to expect.
“I called them to let them know what had happened and told them, hey, I will come in tomorrow, but you guys have to let me know what's going on,” Erikson told me.
The company never called back, so at the end of their shift on Monday, Erikson and Barr walked out.
“We counted our drawers out and [Erikson] called to ask where to leave the keys,” Barr told me. “He said he didn’t want to go through the same thing our manager went through.”
“They try to brainwash employees”
Local news station WMTW reported that Dollar General declined to discuss the walkout, citing privacy concerns.
"Out of respect for these individuals, as well as the value we place on open and direct communication with our employees, we do not plan to comment on their employment status further,” the company said in a statement.
The company is dealing with staffing problems across the nation, Maine AFL-CIO’s O’Brien told me, because of the company’s treatment of employees.
“Dollar General is a notoriously anti-worker company and is dealing with workplace unrest across the country due to their exploitive behavior,” O’Brien said.
I asked Erikson if he thought the walkout would motivate other Dollar General employees to unionize and fight for better working conditions.
“I would love to see that, but obviously most big box stores have learned to say, oh, we believe unions are important, but they aren’t important in our business, we have an incredible relationship with our employees,” Erikson said. “They try to brainwash employees into avoiding them.”
“I stand up for workers”
Erikson and Barr didn’t want to leave without giving the public their reasons for why they were walking out. So Erikson came up with the messages on the signs—calling for a general strike and a living wage and pillorying capitalism—and Barr, who has better handwriting, wrote them. They left them posted to the store’s front door.
The signs are meant to push back against claims by businesses around the country that it’s hard to staff service jobs because workers are lazy. But low wage employees are increasingly rejecting demands they put their lives on the line for low pay and poor treatment, not because they don’t want to work.
“You've probably seen on Twitter those signs on businesses that are closing due to understaffing because people don't want to work,” said Erikson. “I have been thinking about those signs a lot lately. And I wanted to make a retort to those signs that actually told the truth of why people weren’t going to work there anymore.”
The decision to publicize the staff’s grievances was also political.
“Honestly, I am a communist,” said Erikson. “So I stand up for workers, I stand up for workers’ rights. I'm not going to let anybody do this while I'm here.”
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