‘Last Week Tonight’ Exposes Abysmal Working Conditions of Dollar Stores

The Big Picture

  • Dollar stores prioritize low prices at the expense of their workforce, resulting in poor working conditions and disorganized stores.
  • Employees are overworked and underpaid, with some dollar store workers earning less than $20,000 a year and less than $15 an hour.
  • Dollar store employees face a range of challenges including armed robberies, physical violence, extreme heat with no cooling systems, and rat infestations. The companies also discourage unionization, silencing employee voices.

Whenever you see a store in which the prices seem too good to be true, you should always wonder where they are saving up in order to reduce costs. The answer is invariably the workforce, and just ahead of this year’s Black Friday, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver decided to take a look at Dollar Stores and expose the working conditions of its employees. As you can imagine, it ain’t pretty.

The first point that John Oliver makes in this week’s main segment is that somebody always pays the price for keeping prices low – and it’s not that we didn’t know that. It’s not exactly a secret the way that Amazon workers are treated, for example, and it’s not much different with employees from other large retailers. In the case of dollar stores, even customers have noticed how these companies’ practices have taken their toll: You can hardly find a store that’s organized.

This happens because, in some stores, the working team on the floor is reduced to just one employee. Not surprisingly, they are stretched so thin they have no time to care about store maintenance. And even if they did, it’s not like they should: As the episode shows, employees from stores like Dollar General average a salary of less than $20,000 USD a year, and 92% of them were making less than $15 USD an hour at the time of the research.

Armed Robbery, Extreme Heat and Rat Infestation: A Day in the Life of a Dollar Store Employee

Image via HBO

And we haven’t even covered the mental health toll that this takes on the employees. More often than not, Dollar Stores workers are forced to deal with distressing situations such as armed robberies, physical violence, not being allowed to control the thermostat – some stores have no cooling system at all — and, to add insult to injury, rat infestation. Not by chance, Dollar General and Dollar Tree rank high among the companies that are the most severe violators of working safety conditions, with over $38 million USD combined in fines since 2017.

How do they deal with this? By discouraging its employees from unionizing, of course. In one abysmal training video of Dollar General exposed by an employee, workers are told that “employees don’t need a union to have their voices heard,” when employees will tell you that’s not the case at all. In fact, their voices are so systematically silenced that many of them resort to desperate TikTok videos to expose their terrible working conditions, while others just up and quit.

You can watch the main segment below:

Watch on Max

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