Our Working Lives

WORKERS’ POWER SHAKES UP RICHMOND’S DIVERSITY THRIFT

Originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 67, printed February 3. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Kat McNeal

In November 2021, workers at Richmond’s Diversity Thrift used-goods store went on strike. After a whirlwind nine-day campaign, they won higher wages, staffing changes, and new store policies regarding sexual harassment.

Diversity Thrift was founded in 1999 to benefit Diversity Richmond, the city’s LGBTQ community center. On Nov. 6, all 10 of the store’s non-supervisory staff, plus a salaried ally from the center, asked Diversity’s president and executive director, Bill Harrison to close the store in order to meet with them. The workers’ concerns were primarily related to low pay, chronic understaffing and how management handled an alleged incident of sexual harassment of an employee by two managers.

Harrison refused, and the strike was on.

For three days, the striking workers and community supporters demonstrated outside the store, distributing leaflets outlining their demands and holding signs urging passersby not to donate to or buy from the store.

On the evening of Nov. 9, the 11 met with the executive committee of Diversity Richmond’s board of directors. The largest crowd yet – more than 120 – waited outside, chanting and cheering.

After nearly five hours, the strikers emerged with the news: the executive committee, which said it had been unaware of dysfunctions at the store, had agreed to substantial changes: Raising employee base pay from $11 to $15 an hour, changing policy regarding sexual harassment, and more. All workers that had participated in the strike were invited back to their positions, with back pay. The next day Diversity announced that Harrison, who strikers demanded be removed from leadership, had retired.

This article is a shortened version of longer coverage published on our website. For the full version of the story, see this link.

Categories: Our Working Lives

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