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Dozens of shuttered 99 Cents Only stores could reopen under a familiar name: Dollar Tree

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Dozens of shuttered 99 Cents Only stores could reopen under a familiar name: Dollar Tree

Dozens of recently closed 99 Cents Only stores across the Southland could reopen with another bargain retailer’s logo outside: Dollar Tree.

The Chesapeake, Va.-based company, which operates hundreds of Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores in California, reportedly made a bid on about 100 recently shuttered locations of 99 Cents Only, which announced last month that it was going out of business, according to a LinkedIn post from Bill Read, executive vice president of the real estate firm Retail Specialists.

The development, first reported by the Orange County Register, involves a handful of stores in Arizona, Nevada and Texas, but the vast majority are in Southern California, including in Lancaster, North Hollywood, Burbank, Long Beach and Riverside, according to Read’s post.

Dollar Tree did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A representative for 99 Cents Only could not be reached.

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The 99 Cents Only chain — a longtime icon of L.A.’s discount retail world — started in 1982 with a single store on La Tijera Boulevard and expanded rapidly.

Before the City of Commerce company abruptly announced its closure in April — citing several factors, including shifting consumer demands and inflation — the chain had 371 locations.

But shelves quickly emptied out during liquidation sales, and several of the locations today are covered in graffiti.

Dollar Tree has faced financial turmoil of its own.

In 2014, Dollar Tree Inc. announced a plan to buy its big rival Family Dollar Stores Inc. for more than $8 billion — an acquisition that, according to the company’s website, brought its total to 15,000 stores. But this year, Dollar Tree announced a plan to close nearly 1,000 locations, including about 600 Family Dollar stores, in the first half of 2024, as well as several other Dollar Tree stores in the years ahead.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Snap to pay $15 million in discrimination and harassment settlement

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Snap to pay $15 million in discrimination and harassment settlement

Snap Inc. and California’s Civil Rights Department have reached a $15-million settlement to resolve allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation at the Santa Monica-based company.

The settlement brings to a close a more-than-three-year investigation into allegations of employment discrimination, equal pay violations, and sexual harassment. Nearly all the money from the agreement will go toward current and former female employees who worked at the company in 2014 and later.

Snap denies the allegations but said it agreed to settle to avoid a prolonged legal fight.

“We care deeply about our commitment to maintain a fair and inclusive environment at Snap, and do not believe we have any ongoing systemic pay equity, discrimination, harassment, or retaliation issues against women,” Snap spokesperson Russ Caditz-Peck said in an emailed statement.

Snap, which created the popular social media and messaging app Snapchat, grew quickly after its founding in 2011, with its workforce ballooning from 250 in 2015 to over 5,000 in 2022. During that period, women were discouraged from applying for promotions and were subject to unwelcome sexual advances and other harassment, the Civil Rights Department alleged in legal filings.

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“This settlement with Snapchat demonstrates a shared commitment to a California where all workers have a fair chance,” Kevin Kish, director of California’s Civil Rights Department, said in a Wednesday news release. “Women are entitled to equality in every job, in every workplace, and in every industry.”

The case against Snap compiled by the Civil Rights Department portrayed a toxic office culture dominated by men. When women filed complaints internally about harassment, they allegedly were denied promotions, given negative performance reviews or were fired. Male managers, meanwhile, routinely promoted male employees over more qualified women, according to the civil rights complaint.

Women at the company were generally paid less than their male counterparts, the complaint alleged. In particular, women in engineering roles, which account for about 70% of Snap’s workforce, faced barriers and struggled to advance beyond entry-level positions.

“Women were told, both implicitly and explicitly, that they were second-class citizens at Snap,” the complaint reads.

Caditz-Peck, the Snap spokesperson, said the company “disagreed with the California Civil Rights Department’s claims and analyses,” but “took into consideration the cost and impact of lengthy litigation … and decided it is in the best interest of the company to resolve these claims and focus on the future.”

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“For several years now we have successfully implemented tools and governance to achieve pay equity, and we will keep investing in and implementing policies to ensure team members continue to be valued and paid equitably for their work,” he said.

As part of the settlement, Snapchat agreed to hire an independent consultant to examine and make recommendations on the company’s pay and promotion policies, as well as workplace training.

The company will also be required to hire an outside monitor to audit Snapchat’s handling of sexual harassment and discrimination complaints and share its findings with the Civil Rights Department.

The company also agreed to give information to all employees about their right to report harassment or discrimination without fear of retaliation and ensure they complete training on preventing these workplace issues.

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Column: How anti-union southern governors may be violating federal law

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Column: How anti-union southern governors may be violating federal law

Six Republican governors in the Deep South want their constituents to know that they’re looking out for them.

That’s why they issued a joint statement earlier this year condemning the organizing campaign launched by the United Auto Workers at auto plants across the region.

“As governors, we have a responsibility to our constituents to speak up when we see special interests looking to come into our state and threaten our jobs and the values we live by,” the governors said.

We have one federal labor policy, not 50 different state policies, when it comes to union organizing and collective bargaining.

— Benjamin Sachs, Harvard Law School

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Three of the governors have gone further — signing laws denying state economic development subsidies to any employer that voluntarily recognizes a union (that is, without insisting on a formal vote by workers). They’re Kay Ivey of Alabama, Brian Kemp of Georgia and Bill Lee of Tennessee.

These steps raise the question of whether those governors and other political leaders are breaching federal labor law by their actions, which could prompt the government to invalidate unsuccessful union votes and order new elections.

“We have one federal labor policy, not 50 different state policies, when it comes to union organizing and collective bargaining,” says Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School and the author of a recent article examining how the actions of anti-union politicians may have illegally interfered with employees’ right to “a free and untrammeled choice for or against” a union.

Sachs acknowledges that the rules governing federal preemption of state labor laws are murky about the conditions in which federal labor law would prevail, and also the point at which politicians’ actions render union representation elections unfree and unfair — threshold findings that would prompt the National Labor Relations Board to invalidate an election and order a new vote.

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That said, “Alabama probably can’t condition its economic incentives on the relinquishment of the federal right” to voluntary recognition of a union, Sachs told me. But he adds that how any such case unfolds would depend on the federal court that heard it.

Political interference in union organizing campaigns in the South isn’t new. In 2014, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and the state’s then-governor, Bill Haslam — both Republicans — threatened Volkswagen with retribution for taking a tolerant view of a UAW organizing campaign at its factory in Chattanooga.

One visiting VW executive referred positively to the labor-management “works councils” common in the company’s home, Germany: “Volkswagen considers its corporate culture of works councils a competitive advantage,” he said.

Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, voiced an almost certainly specious claim that VW executives had “assured” him that the company would open a new SUV manufacturing line at the plant — if the workers turned the UAW down. A local VW executive denied that.

After losing the election, the UAW filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the NLRB, but ultimately withdrew it. The union lost another election at the plant in 2019, but two months ago it won a third election there, its first victory at an auto plant in the Deep South.

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As the UAW stepped up its campaign to unionize other plants in the South, the region’s Republican political leaders pushed back hard. In their joint statement, the governors of Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Tennessee accused the union of unspecified “misinformation and scare tactics.”

Parroting an argument straight out of the corporate anti-union playbook, they said, “The experience in our states is when employees have a direct relationship with their employers, that makes for a more positive working environment. They can advocate for themselves and what is important to them without outside influence.” All six states have automobile plants that could be targeted by the UAW.

One question relevant to whether the governors have crossed over to engaging in unfair labor practices that could invalidate a union election, Sachs says, is whether the NLRB could judge them to be “agents” of the employers. In that case, the board might consider their actions to be tantamount to actions by an employer interfering with the workers’ right to vote in a free and fair election.

“It doesn’t seem too crazy that the board might find the elected officials to be agents of the employers,” Sachs says. In several cases in which an employer didn’t disavow statements by elected officials warning a plant would close or there would be a loss of jobs if its workers voted to unionize, the board found the election to be unfair. In similar cases, the board does not have to find that there was direct contact between the politicians and the employer.

The chief target of the anti-union laws signed by Ivey, Kemp and Lee is the “card check” procedure, one of the two paths to union recognition under federal labor law — the other being a secret ballot. In the card check process, after more than 50% of employees at a workplace sign authorization cards seeking representation by a union, the employers can voluntarily recognize the union, waive any demand for a secret ballot among the workers, and participate in negotiations.

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The Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee laws deny state economic incentives to companies that accept card check authorizations without demanding a secret ballot. They also forbid employers to voluntarily provide unions with contact information for employees without the workers’ prior consent. These both are requirements that obviously make unionization drives harder.

Like other Republican state initiatives, the anti-unionization laws were incubated on the far right — specifically the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC — the source of model laws aimed at cutting taxes, hamstringing healthcare reforms, privatizing public education, blocking environmental regulations and other such conservative hobby horses.

The anti-union laws in the three states are reproduced almost verbatim from a model law ALEC dubbed the “Taxpayer Dollars Protect Workers Act.” To put it another way, neither the state legislators nor the governors had to break a sweat to draft and enact these measures — they were spoon-fed the texts.

Southern states are generally quite candid about their efforts to attract manufacturers by guaranteeing them a low-wage rank-and-file workforce and union-free factory floors. On its economic development web page, for example, Oklahoma even brags about how much lower than national averages are the median hourly wages in 12 occupational categories — $17.01 for machinists vs. $19 nationally, $26.17 vs. $30.75 for construction managers, and so on.

Oklahoma doesn’t have any auto plants, but hope springs eternal. Oklahoma and the six states whose governors signed the anti-union letter are all “right-to-work” states, which ban contracts requiring all workers in a unionized workplace to be union members.

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In signing Alabama’s measure denying economic incentives to employers that voluntarily negotiate with unions, Ivey declared, “Alabama is not Michigan. … We want to ensure that Alabama values, not Detroit values, continue to define the future of this great state.”

She said a mouthful. The median annual wage in Alabama was $41,350 last year. In Michigan, where unions are popular, it was $46,940. That’s higher than in any of the other states whose governors signed the anti-union letter. (The median wage in Mississippi, whose governor, Tate Reeves, signed the joint statement, was $37,500, the lowest in the nation.)

Whether states can use their economic incentives to ban card check recognition may have to be weighed by the courts. As John Fry of Harvard Law observed in a report earlier this year, states clearly can’t outlaw card check agreements directly — such agreements are legal under federal law, which protects voluntary recognition of a union and the voluntary sharing of employee contact information.

As for wielding economic incentives as a weapon, the Supreme Court has ruled that states can impose labor-related rules mostly when they’re applied to projects in which the states have a direct interest, such as on public works projects.

But the issue is almost certain to come before the courts again; following its negotiating successes with the Big Three automakers last year, the UAW announced a two-year, $40-million campaign to organize nonunion plants “across the country, and particularly in the South.”

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The union lost a unionization election last month at Mercedes plants in Alabama, but has now turned its attention to a Hyundai plant in the same state. Politicians across the South are sure to react with ever more draconian laws and policies aimed at forestalling unionization. Will they be smart enough to keep on the right side of the legal line? Possibly, but that’s not the way to bet.

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'Fight Night' producer Will Packer says he's 'living proof' that diverse content is good business

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'Fight Night' producer Will Packer says he's 'living proof' that diverse content is good business

Will Packer knows that diversity in movies is good business.

The producer has become a standout in Hollywood, making films with mostly Black casts that cater to an underserved audience — and that audience has rewarded him for it. His 2017 film “Girls Trip,” starring Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith, was the highest-grossing comedy of that year. Comedies “Think Like a Man” and “Ride Along” have seen massive success at the box office.

He’s since branched out into projects for streaming, documentary features and television (both scripted and unscripted), diversifying his slate at a time when the industry is seeing upheaval in its business model. His next project is “Fight Night,” a true-story limited series for Peacock that chronicles the biggest heist in the state of Georgia’s history, starring Kevin Hart, Samuel L. Jackson and Taraji P. Henson. But Hollywood’s current contraction shouldn’t mean that diverse projects should be abandoned in favor of the bottom line, he said.

“It takes folks pushing the industry to see the economic benefit of doing organically diverse content,” Packer said. “And I like to think that I’m one of the people that is doing the pushing.”

This year is the 10th anniversary of Will Packer Productions. What are you most proud of?

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Sustainability and longevity in the context of a very fickle industry where not a lot of companies last that long. As the ever-changing industry has continued to shift, we have somehow been able to stay relevant and valuable to our media partners and to audiences, which is most important.

What has helped you stay relevant?

I like to think it’s because two of the things that I really try to focus on are commerciality and authenticity. We focus on things that will be appealing to our core audience and do it at a time when we realize they don’t have to consume your stuff.

It’s laughable to me how self-important as an industry we can be. And I have peers who think that if you build it, they will come. And it’s like no, not at all. Not when you’re in an oversaturated environment. Audiences want something that they can’t get elsewhere that feels urgent, that’s loud, provocative, oftentimes — something that’s going to speak to them.

What more needs to be done to diversify Hollywood?

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You know, I’m an eternal optimist. There definitely has been progress — you look at the voices in front of and behind the camera, and they’re more diverse than ever before. But we started from where there was such a dearth of any kind of real, authentic diversity, we have so far to go. Even though I’m optimistic, I don’t have any delusions of thinking that we’ve turned some incredible corner. If anything, when you have a constriction of content now, studios pulling back, the first things that get cut are things that are considered, you know, diversity initiatives.

I’m living proof that diverse content is good business. Unfortunately, we’re seeing it become tougher for diverse filmmakers, because it’s tougher for all filmmakers, but it always hits the marginalized voices first and hardest. And we’re seeing it now.

What projects are you excited about?

I’m on my way to set right this very minute on a project I’m very excited about called “Fight Night.” It is a limited series that I’m doing for Peacock. It is a true story based on the biggest heist in Georgia’s history, and one of the biggest heists in the country, actually. It happened after a Muhammad Ali fight back in 1970 when he couldn’t get sanctioned to fight anywhere; he’d been blackballed because of his stance against the Vietnam War. An interesting collection of white government officials, Black entrepreneurs, promoters and, frankly, out-and-out hustlers came together to put together this unsanctioned boxing match. And afterward, there was this underground casino party that attracted celebrities, athletes, entertainers and gangsters from all over the country. And that party got robbed. We’re telling the true story of that night.

Rapid-fire questions

What are you listening to now?

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I’m listening to an audiobook called “Tools of Titans.” Music-wise, I’ve been listening to the Kendrick-Drake tracks. When I work out, that’s good energy. And then earlier this year, I went to Trinidad for Carnival, so I’ve been playing soca since then.

How do you get focused?

Focus has never been a big problem for me. I can’t afford to not be focused. So, I am somebody that always has a million things going on, but I’m a very good compartmentalizer.

What do you do to relax?

Sit on the beach. I’m an amateur boater; I love to go out and be near the water. That’s where my soul kind of finds peace, that’s where I can unplug.

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