The U.S. Workplace Power Struggle | Hillman Foundation

Hillman Prizes

2024 Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism

Josh Eidelson headshot

Josh Eidelson

Bloomberg Businessweek

For the past couple of years, workers in a range of different industries have been taking remarkable collective action. They are making progress in reversing decades-long anti-labor trends, and forcing reckonings over long-simmering problems with their employers.

Josh Eidelson, labor reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek, is part of a new generation of labor journalists that is covering this recent wave of worker activism. Eidelson’s work stands out for its depth, its scope, and its clarity. It is essential reading for a better understanding of the roots of our country’s labor struggles.

In 2023, his cover story (with Brendan Case) about Dollar General was one such stand-out. Journalists have been trying to report on America’s ubiquitous dollar stores for years, without much success.

Bloomberg Businessweek cover and interior art for Dollar General story

Dollar General has more than 19,000 U.S. locations, more than Walmart and Wendy’s combined, and it might just be providing the worst retail jobs in America.

Businessweek’s cover story uncovered the miserable and alarmingly dangerous conditions at the company’s stores by drawing on interviews with current and former hourly workers and managers in 14 states, and thousands of pages of public records.

In 2022, Dollar General became the first major retailer to have the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) deem it a “severe violator” of federal workplace safety laws. Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said to Eidelson, “The thing that concerns us about Dollar General is the consistency with which we find similar hazards at workplace after workplace…The potential for catastrophe is very real.”  

As Eidelson documented, workers are subjected to serious and widespread risks of being struck by falling products, electrocuted by unsafe equipment, sickened by poor pest control, or trapped in a fire. They also face harassment and violent threats from customers. Often, stores have only one or two employees working per shift.

This story exposed the people in power who created these conditions. Eidelson revealed that managers instructed workers to intentionally obstruct exits as an anti-theft method; that headquarters officials disregarded managers’ pleas for assistance; and that executives prioritized swift expansion over decent staffing and basic upkeep.

Businessweek revealed that Dollar General’s dangers persist, in part because of a pattern of alleged retaliation: hourly staff and managers who speak up are cast out of the company. The story also uncovered previously unscrutinized decisions of state governments that issued zero-dollar fines to avoid upsetting the company’s way of doing business.

Three weeks after the story was published, Dollar General announced its CEO was stepping down after less than a year on the job because “the board has determined that a change in leadership is necessary to restore stability and confidence in the company moving forward.” In December, newly installed CEO Todd Vasos announced plans to have more employees in the front of stores rather than relying on self-checkout; and to slow down rapid expansions that workers had told Businessweek were coming at the expense of staffing and safety.

The Dollar General blockbuster was just one example of Eidelson’s continuing coverage of the American economy. In 2023, he also reported on the stunning wave of union organizing success at Starbucks, at REI, and in other U.S. workplaces, illuminating a culture clash underway at several prominent, avowedly progressive companies whose workers began to demand collective bargaining. He took readers inside negotiating rooms for high-stakes contract talks, mandatory anti-union meetings, and training sessions for undercover labor organizers.

Eidelson is deeply sourced, consistently breaks news, and brings uncommon integrity and passion to the labor beat. His reporting helps light a path forward for change. Dollar-store workers in Louisiana, for example, are now part of a community organizing group that coaches them on their workplace rights, as well as tactics for mobilizing their peers. Eidelson helps them, and helps us, better understand what’s happening now, what lies ahead, and what people can do to improve their lives.

Josh Eidelson covers the workplace as a senior reporter for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek. His reporting has exposed government choices that narrowed workers’ rights, corporate practices that exacerbated the Covid-19 pandemic, and labor leaders’ sexual misconduct. His work is frequently cited by lawmakers and scholars and has been honored by groups including UCLA Anderson’s Gerald Loeb Awards, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Labor and Employment Relations Association, the San Francisco Press Club, the New York Labor History Association, and the Northern California, Western Washington, and New York chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Eidelson received his BA and MA in Political Science from Yale. He is based in San Francisco.