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The Retail Workers Demanding More
Kenya Slaughter leads an informational and strategizing meeting with members of Step Up Louisiana on December 22, 2023. Members came and talked strategy for progressing the organizations and new efforts that can be pushed to have their demands met. Photo by Rita Harper

The Retail Workers Demanding More

This story is a collaboration with Mother Jones and Magnum Foundation. We asked photographers to show us the paradox of today’s labor movement. Even as the popularity of unions has grown over the last decade, actual membership has continued to decline. Can new enthusiasm revitalize American labor? Read about this unique moment for workers here.

In the South, retail workers at dollar stores are pushing to improve their lot.

Working at a dollar store is often low-paid and dangerous—according to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 660 shootings have occurred in such stores since 2014. As more and more of the retail stores open, the lack of serious protections takes on a bigger dimension. Are workers safe in these common jobs?

This project looks at the fight by Step Up Louisiana to push for better conditions. Kenya Slaughter, the lead organizer, has traveled to stores across the state—dropping in at Dollar Trees, Dollar Generals, and Family Dollars to explain to workers what can be offered by banding together with other workers. She discusses not only safety but the other things a union can offer, from increased pay to an opportunity to stand up to your bosses.

As blue-collar workers continue to migrate from the factory floor to the retail aisle, fights like this could determine whether a working-class job can still provide a decent life in America. While focused on dollar stores, Step Up Louisiana’s work goes beyond to look at others employed behind the counter—at everywhere from hardware stores to coffee shops.

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Members of Step Up Louisiana host informatinal street protest in New Orleans. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Members hand out informational brochures and documents that list working conditions and hopeful demands. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Kenya Slaughter leads an informational and strategizing meeting with members of Step Up Louisiana. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Slaughter and Step Up Louisiana have made organizing dollar store workers a key part of their plan. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

At meetings, members swap stories of organizing and strategize on how to get more for retail workers.Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Kenya Slaughter often visits Dollar Trees, Dollar Generals, and Family Dollars in the Louisiana area. She speaks with employees to let them know about Step Up Louisiana, their efforts, and how they can join. She also lets them know of their legal rights as workers. Photo by Rita Harper

 

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Felix Allen, a former worker for Lowe’s in New Orleans, was the lead organizer in a failed effort to unionize. “We couldn’t effectively counter the propaganda they were putting out,” he said. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

The Starbucks in New Orleans on St. Claude is organizing. They held a “sip-in” for the community to come out and voice support. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

Organizers craft activities for the community during the sip-in, from coloring books with photographs relating to labor organizing to making friendship bracelets. Photo by Rita Harper

 

The Retail Workers Demanding More

The starbucks in New Orleans on St. Claude is filing for a union election. Photo by Rita Harper

 

 

Rita Harper is a documentary photographer and photojournalist from Atlanta, Georgia.

Co-published with Mother Jones.

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Rita Harper is a documentary photographer and photojournalist from Atlanta, Georgia.f

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