The Atlanta-metro area continues to top the list of potential cities for Amazon’s second headquarters. Georgia and city officials are compiling an incentive deal to compel the online giant to move here, which could bring thousands of jobs.
However, an 11Alive Investigation uncovered Georgia lawmakers have a history of giving millions to companies with a history of bad behavior.
Amy Roberts and Vanessia Starks were assistant managers at the Dollar General store in Oxford, Georgia. Both are part of a class action lawsuit against their former employer, which claims they were forced to work off the clock for years.
"There were times when I clocked out and I had to go to the bank to make bank deposits," said Starks.
Dollar General is no stranger to claims of mistreating employees. Court records show employees have filed at least 3,600 wage theft lawsuits nation-wide since 2010. The federal government has also filed numerous race and disability discrimination lawsuits against the retailer too. "I wouldn’t recommend a dog that was thirsty to work at Dollar General,” said Roberts.
Despite its history, Dollar General is expanding in Georgia and the 11Alive Investigators uncovered it's getting taxpayer money to do it. The retailer is nearly done building a massive distribution center in Butts County.
In 2016, Butts County Commissioners approved giving the retailer a $1.2 million grant to create 500 new jobs. It will also forgo paying property taxes for years.
The director of the county’s economic development authority, Laura Hale, is responsible for bringing the retailer to the county. Over the phone, she said residents were lucky to have Dollar General move to the county. She admits the county was not aware of the company’s history of wage theft and discrimination claims when the incentive deal was negotiated. Hale said unemployment dropped when Dollar General moved to the county but did not provide figures when requested.
Robert Henderson, Butts County Commission Chair, voted for the incentive deal. He also declined to talk about the county’s vetting process when awarding subsidies to private companies.
Dollar General declined interview requests. It provided a statement, which reads in part, “we are committed to complying with applicable employment laws including wage and hour laws and laws prohibiting discrimination.”
READ FULL STATEMENT HERE:
The discount retailer isn’t the only company accused of mistreating employees and taxpayers while receiving a handout. The 11Alive Investigators uncovered numerous other companies with histories of safety hazards, tax fraud, and environment crimes– all receiving millions of Georgia tax dollars to create jobs.
List of companies which have received Georgia tax dollars to create jobs:
Home Depot: received $500,000 state grant in 2013 to create 700 jobs in Cobb County
Violations: click here for list of penalties levied by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Ernst & Young: received $1 million state grant in 2014 to create 400 jobs in Fulton County
Violations: click here for list of tax fraud violations cited by the Securities and Exchange Commission
Wal-Mart: received $500,000 state grant in 2016 to create 450 jobs in Fulton County
Violations: click here for a list of penalties related to wage and hour violations
The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute believes Georgia lawmakers can do better. The bi-partisan research group thinks Georgia needs to thoroughly review tax subsidies packages before awarding money to private companies.
"It’s the more information and the more transparency and accountability the better…. that is the only way that lawmakers can make the best decisions possible about how to use taxpayer dollars," said Wesley Tharp, a research analyst at the institute.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) approves the grants awarded to counties to use for incentives. The agency also did not respond to questions about the state’s vetting process.
In addition to dolling out free money to companies with a history of bad behavior, DCA does not require companies to disclose how much money jobs pay, even though taxpayers helped fund those positions. “It’s something we can consider. We’re always looking to improve ourselves,' said Rusty Haywood, DCA’s Deputy Director, earlier this year.