Retail giant Dollar General may have fought off a small but potentially groundbreaking union effort at one of its stores in Connecticut, after spending thousands of dollars on anti-union consultants.
A handful of workers in Barkhamsted voted in an election Friday to determine whether their store would be the only organized Dollar General location in the country. In a preliminary tally, two workers voted in favor of joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371, while three workers voted against.
In total, seven workers cast ballots in the election, and the company and the union each challenged the eligibility of one to vote. The union would need to win both of those challenged ballots on review, bringing the count to 4-3, in order to be victorious. It’s possible officials with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determine that one or both ballots should not be counted.
If the final count ends in a 3-3 tie, the union would still lose, since it needs to secure a majority of “yes” votes under NLRB rules.
Shellie Parsons, an assistant store manager at the Barkhamsted location, helped lead the union campaign there. In an interview, Parsons said she was still waiting on the final, certified results from the board, which could take days or weeks, but she acknowledged the odds were not in the union’s favor after the initial tally.
“I had to do it for my daughter. She needs to see that I’m able to stand up, and that she can stand up, too,” Parsons told HuffPost. “She’s a little girl. She’s 8. I’m a single mother, and she looks up to me. She’s very proud of me for what I did. My daughter is everything.”
Dollar General said in a statement that it was “pleased” to see the preliminary vote count, though it noted the results were not official.
“We continue to believe a union is not in our employees’ best interests and that our employees benefit most from the open, direct communication we provide and from a work environment that is built on trust, respect and opportunity,” the company said.
Dollar General hired the “union avoidance” firm Labor Relations Institute (LRI) to try to persuade workers not to unionize, according to recent disclosure filings with the Labor Department. The retailer agreed to pay LRI a fee of $2,700 per day for each consultant on the project. There were five different consultants listed and their work began on Sept. 25.
“They would have a union-buster come in and have all of us sit down and listen to what they had to say. Then they would bring in another union-buster and do the same thing.”
Parsons said consultants were in the store on a daily basis, holding one-on-one meetings and tagging along with employees as they worked on the floor ahead of the election, as well as holding group sessions. In These Times reported on the union campaign and the “captive audience” meetings earlier this month.
“They’d follow us around the store, chit-chat with us, telling us we could still lose our hours, still lose our jobs, and [the union] won’t help us,” Parsons said. “They would have a union-buster come in and have all of us sit down and listen to what they had to say. Then they would bring in another union-buster, a different one, and do the same thing.”
It is illegal to explicitly threaten workers with job loss if they form a union, though consultants and managers can often convey the point while staying within legal bounds. Jessica Petronella, an organizing director with Local 371, said the union plans to file unfair labor practice charges against the company, on the grounds that workers were threatened with a store closure.
She said the money that Dollar General spent on union avoidance consultants would have been better spent on raising wages.
“It’s not over. It’s going to be a legal battle,” Petronella said. “I feel bad for our supporters and the workers, because this will get tied up for weeks, and [Dollar General] is going to continue to make money.”
Parsons said she believed the anti-union consulting work could turn out to be the determining factor in the election.
“We had a lot of people [on our side] until they came in scaring everybody,” said Parsons, who will go back to work at the store on Saturday.