Dawn Hughey had worked at Dollar General for just four months when she was named manager of a store in the Detroit suburbs in 2009. Having recently moved home after a stint in California, Hughey hoped the new honorific — and its attendant annual salary — would help her start a new life in Michigan.
But like other managers in America’s booming dollar store industry, Hughey quickly came to believe she was a manager in name only. The major dollar store chains — Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar — have thrived by offering customers rock-bottom prices that rival Walmart’s, a business model that requires shaving labor costs wherever possible. For a manager like Hughey, that meant working far beyond a 40-hour week.
Each week, the company allotted Hughey around 125 hours to assign to the four workers in her charge, most of whom were earning close to minimum wage, she said. But according to Hughey, as well as recent lawsuits against Dollar General and its competitors, the hours that dollar store managers are allowed to assign rarely cover the work that needs to be done. The stores operate on something close to a skeleton staff, workers say.
Pressured to keep payroll down, Hughey spent most of her time unloading trucks, stocking shelves and manning the cash register, often logging 12-hour days, six days a week, to keep the store operating. She said she felt less like a manager than a manual laborer.
Dollar General saved a bundle by having Hughey do much of the grunt work. As a salaried manager, she was exempt from overtime protections and didn’t get paid for extra work. Given that she often worked 70 hours a week, at an annual salary of $34,700, her pay sometimes broke down to less than $10 per hour — hardly a managerial haul.
She and her fellow store managers didn’t like thinking about the math, she said. After all, these were supposed to be the good, middle-class jobs in the low-paying retail world.