Dollar General stores in Georgia cited for unsafe working conditions and more business news

AP Photo/Eric Gay / Dollar General, which operates nearly 17,700 stores across the country, is facing a unionization election Friday by workers at one of its Connecticut stores.

Dollar General is cited for dangerous worksites

Dollar General faces penalties after three of its Georgia locations were cited for dangerous working conditions.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $1,292,783 in penalties for violations at stores in Smyrna, Pembroke and Hogansville, Georgia, according to a Monday news release. The workplace hazards were discovered during inspections in February and March.

The violations follow similar workplace hazard accusations at a Dalton, Georgia store earlier this year. OSHA, the federal government agency that oversees workplace safety, accused the dollar store brand of valuing profit over its employees' wellbeing.

"Dollar General continues to make it obvious that profit means more to them than the safety of their employees," Doug Parker, OSHA's assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said in the release. " OSHA will take all necessary enforcement actions and pursue all available remedies against Dollar General until it fixes the disconnect between its business model and worker safety."

Inspectors said they found four willful violations and seven repeat violations during its most recent Georgia location visits. Those violations included exit routes being obstructed, boxes of merchandise being stacked unsafely and electrical panels being hard to access, the release said.

Dollar General, which is based in Goodlettsville, Tenn., operates roughly 17,000 stores and employs more than 150,000 workers across the country. It has faced multiple OSHA violations over the past few years, including more than $6.5 million in proposed penalties.

Alabama sheet maker charged in worker death

An Alabama company has been charged with willfully violating federal safety rules in the death of a worker who was pulled into a machine and fatally injured, authorities said Monday.

ABC Polymer Industries, which has a plant in the Birmingham suburb of Helena, was accused of two misdemeanor counts in the 2017 death of Catalina Estillado, court records showed. The company makes flat plastic sheets on an assembly line that pulls material through multiple sets of large, spinning rollers, according to a statement by prosecutors.

ABC Polymer typically operated the machine without a required safety guard being engaged, the statement said, and Estillado was pulled into the spinning rollers and killed after being assigned to use a hand tool to cut away tangles.

The protections were required by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, prosecutors alleged, but the company failed to use them despite knowing workers had been injured multiple times before.

The misdemeanor offense is the only federal criminal charge involving such workplace safety violations and could result in a fine of as much as $500,000., prosecutors said.

Delta worker illness up 50% during June

Delta Air Lines said pilots and flight attendants called out sick in June at a rate 50% higher than June 2019 levels, with the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic straining its operations and contributing to flight cancellations.

The disclosure came as the Atlanta-based airline sought Federal Aviation Administration approval to cut its flight schedule in New York and Washington, D.C. because of the "unforeseen spike" in pilot and flight attendant sick days. Delta told the FAA that its "workforce and flight operations are under extraordinary strain, leaving little margin for operational challenges caused by construction, ATC delays, and weather."

LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International in New York and Reagan National in Washington, D.C. are unusual in that they are "slot-controlled" airports, requiring airlines to operate a minimum number of flights or risk losing their flying rights.

That's why Delta sought a waiver of the minimum slot usage requirement for those airports, and told the FAA it it is "experiencing significant effects on operations due to higher than expected employee resource and illness-related issues, including unexpected increases in COVID-19-related crew absences," according to the agency.

Starbucks asks for halt to all union elections

Starbucks on Monday asked the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily suspend all union elections at its U.S. stores, citing allegations from a board employee that regional NLRB officials improperly coordinated with union organizers.

In a letter to the board chairman, Starbucks said the unnamed career NLRB employee informed the company about the activity, which happened in the board's St. Louis office in the spring while it was overseeing a union election at a Starbucks store in Overland Park, Kansas.

The store is one of 314 U.S. Starbucks locations where workers have petitioned the NLRB to hold union elections since late last year. More than 220 of those Starbucks stores have voted to unionize. The company opposes the unionization effort.

The Seattle coffee giant alleges that St. Louis labor board officials made special arrangements for pro-union workers to vote in person at its office when they did not receive mail-in ballots, even though Starbucks and the union had agreed that store elections would be handled by mail-in ballot.

In its letter, Starbucks referred to memos the regional office sent confirming that workers were allowed to come to the office and vote in person after the union told the regional office that some workers had not received ballots in the mail. The memos, citing "board protocol," said the workers voted alone in an empty office, according to Starbucks.

"Because observers were not present, no one can be sure who appeared to vote, whether NLRB personnel had inappropriate communications with the voters, told them how to vote, showed them how to vote or engaged in other undisclosed conduct," Starbucks wrote in its letter.

- Compiled by Dave Flessner