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There is a terrific story in the New York Times this morning about how a Dollar General store manager went from being one of its top employees to a fired dissident who now is "trying to build what she calls a 'movement' of workers who feel overworked and disrespected and is encouraging Dollar General employees to form a union."

Here's how the Times frames the story:

"In January 2021, Mary Gundel received a letter from Dollar General’s corporate office congratulating her for being one of the company’s top-performing employees. In honor of her hard work and dedication, the company gave Ms. Gundel a lapel pin that read, 'DG: Top 5%.'

"'Wear it proudly,' the letter said.

"Ms. Gundel did just that, affixing the pin to her black-and-yellow Dollar General uniform, next to her name badge. 'I wanted the world to see it,' she said.

"Ms. Gundel loved her job managing the Dollar General store in Tampa, Fla. It was fast-paced, unpredictable and even exciting. She especially liked the challenge of calming down belligerent customers and pursuing shoplifters. She earned about $51,000 a year, far more than the median income in Tampa.

"But the job had its challenges, too: Delivery trucks that would show up unannounced, leaving boxes piled up in the aisles because there weren’t enough workers to unpack them. Days spent running the store for long stretches by herself because the company allotted only so many hours for other employees to work. Cranky customers complaining about out of stock items."

Frustrated and feeling unheard, she decided to post a six-part video on TikTok, in which she "laid bare the working conditions inside the fast-growing retail chain, with stores that are a common sight in rural areas," conceding as she did so that she could get in trouble for her videos.   But, she said, "Whatever happens, happens. Something needs to be said, and there needs to be some changes, or they are probably going to end up losing a lot of people."

One of her videos was viewed 1.8 million times.  And something did happen - she got fired.

The Times writes:  "Ms. Gundel was instantly transformed from a loyal lieutenant in Dollar General management into an outspoken dissident who risked her career to describe working conditions familiar to retail employees across the United States … Dollar General soon fired her. She was let go less than a week after posting her first critical video, but not before she inspired other Dollar General store managers, many of them women working in stores in poor areas, to speak out on TikTok."

Dollar General released a statement:

"In a statement, Dollar General said: “We provide many avenues for our teams to make their voices heard, including our open-door policy and routine engagement surveys. We use this feedback to help us identify and address concerns, improve our workplace and better serve our employees, customers and communities. We are disappointed any time an employee feels that we have not lived up to these goals and we use those situations as additional opportunities to listen and learn … Although we do not agree with all the statements currently being made by Ms. Gundel, we are doing that here."

You c an read the entire story here.

KC's View:

First of all, Dollar General is full of it.  If management really cared and wanted to learn, it would've kept Mary Gundel inside the tent, empowering her to help identify and solve the problems.  That might've given her a better understanding of the broader problems, and given them a different, front lines-centric appreciation for the issues.

Gundel went public not because she didn't care, or hated the company, but because she loved her job and the company - enough to risk her career.

C-level execs who do not get that ought to lose their jobs.  It is that simple.

Go into a competitive battle with an army of people like Mary Gundel, and you can conquer the world.  If I were another Tampa-area retailer, I'd reach out to her immediately … tap into that passion, and use it to create a business model more in synch with front line realities.

We have an email from an MNB reader below in which he says that "I find it hard to believe that workers at a Starbucks have brutal working conditions … Never have been and never will be a fan of unions … Workers today don’t realize how good they have it."

But I think the email misses the point of what may be happening here - that companies have become so big and c-suite-driven that they have become largely disconnected from the front lines and customer experience.  These things, in executives' minds, have become abstract, not tangible reflections of what the business's priorities should be.