WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — As hundreds of employees at the Family Dollar distribution center in West Memphis are forced to find new jobs, the door may not be closed on accountability for the discount retailer.
The Family Dollar Distribution Center in West Memphis, Arkansas will close for good later this year after WREG uncovered a major rat infestation at the facility.
“I was prepared for it, I knew it was going to happen one day,” Family Dollar employee Jonathan Casey said of the impending closure. “It should have been shut down a long time ago, I ain’t gonna lie about that.”
Casey said conditions were improving at the warehouse, but told us the company didn’t do enough.
The company is facing a lawsuit in Arkansas and federal and state regulators could levy harsh punishment against the discount chain.
But it wouldn’t be the first time Family Dollar has paid penalties for a pattern of problems.
WREG combed through OSHA inspections for the Family Dollar Distribution Center in West Memphis and found the agency hit them with more than $150,000 in fines since 2018 for some 10 violations.
That includes a number of violations designated as “serious,” like a November 2018 accident where an employee partially amputated his finger (below).
Inspectors were back a year later and Family Dollar was fined for a repeat violation — that alone was more than $74,000. OSHA cited the company for not providing a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Details about the violation show the facility had stacked pallets and boxes of merchandise on “unstable dented and damaged storage racks” which exposed employees to possibly being hit by falling objects.
OSHA records note the company had been cited in 2017 and 2018 for the same violation.
Many of the OSHA fines have been reduced, so the total now sits just over $93,000.
FDA inspectors who were inside the distribution center 15 times in January and February of 2022 saw dead rats and live ones climbing on pallets of food.
They said the place smelled like dead animals and noted the company’s own pest control company documented thousands of rat captures dating back to 2020.
In a lawsuit against Family Dollar from the Arkansas Attorney General, which references our findings, it’s revealed that state health regulators told the company last year it hadn’t done enough to keep rats out of the warehouse.
During a March visit, an inspector from the Arkansas Department of Health Environmental Health Protection Services who said, “I observed significant rodent activity” also wrote that, “Effective measures are not being taken to exclude vermin or pests … and protect against the contamination of food.”
The same report shows products like V8 juice, Motts Apple Sauce and Blueberry Muffin Mix had to be thrown out.
Inspectors were back again in two weeks, and a month later, cited Family Dollar for a repeat violation and said they found rodent activity in the same spot as before, where “human and pet food” was stored.
OSHA also cited the company in November of last year after a complaint investigation.
We’re still waiting for details on why the company was fined by OSHA last year, but we know by that time, complaints had long started to surface about the rat infestation.
We have pending requests in with OSHA for more details. We also reached out to Family Dollar about these safety violations, but a spokesperson didn’t provide a comment.
The closing of the West Memphis distribution center is set to begin by July leaving more than 300 employees out of a job.
The company says it has 10 other distribution centers across the country, ranging from 800,000 to 950,000 square feet per building. Stores serviced by the West Memphis facility will be serviced by other distribution centers.
Family Dollar says it has no plans to close local stores.