Temperatures have spiked at over 93 degrees in the store since the air conditioning broke down weeks ago, employees say.
Arizona Republic

Employees at a Phoenix Family Dollar store are breathing a little easier. Literally.

A broken air conditioner was repaired and a freezer full of rotten food was cleaned out Thursday at a Phoenix Family Dollar store.

Employees had worked for nearly a month without air conditioning in a miasma of spoiled food as temperatures climbed to 115. 

The fixes came a day after The Arizona Republic detailed sweaty, stinking conditions inside the store on 67th Avenue north of Van Buren Street.

“The AC is working good,” employee Andrea Thundercloud said Friday, adding that corporate managers also gave permission to clean out the freezer. “(They) ordered new food and got rid of all the old food and the old melted chocolate.”

The heat is on

Employees, customers and vendors at the bargain store described sweat-box conditions that caused some to pass out and vomit from the heat. Fans positioned at the front and back chugged ineffectively while the thermostat displayed 92 degrees before 11 a.m.

The stand-alone store employs at least six people and remained open from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. despite the lack of air conditioning.

The freezer was quickly repaired after going out two weeks ago. But employees said the food wasn’t replaced. Old items were refrozen and left on display, although customers were told it was not for sale.

Thundercloud said employees repeatedly complained to managers, but their concerns went unaddressed.

Her complaints were echoed by community activist Yolanda Medina, who said her calls to corporate offices were transferred from one phone line to another. When she finally reached a real person, she was told to file a complaint online.

Employees asked Medina for help about two weeks ago. She said some employees were afraid they would lose their jobs if they publicly complained. She contacted The Arizona Republic’s Call for Action team on their behalf.

Medina said managers indicated it could take weeks to repair the air conditioning. Employees were told there was “no budget” for air repairs and they just would have to deal with the heat, Medina said.

Family Dollar responds with Tweet

Family Dollar, which is headquartered in North Carolina, did not respond to multiple emails. Calls to the corporate offices were not answered. A number listed as the company’s “single point of contact” for employees also went unanswered, leaving callers on hold for an hour or more.

On the same day the Republic’s story ran, Family Dollar sent a message through Twitter. 

“Hi! Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” the post stated. “Can you please private message a short description and the store number? We’d like to escalate this to our customer care team.”

There are about 8,000 Family Dollar stores nationwide. The company’s website indicates at least 40 stores are located within 25 miles of downtown Phoenix. Calls to local store numbers disconnected after digitally shuffling callers through a menu of options.

Family Dollar is owned by Dollar Tree, a publicly traded Fortune 500 company based in Virginia, which paid $8.5 billion for the chain in 2015.

Dollar Tree responded with a statement Wednesday, saying: “We are aware of the situation and are in the process of resolving the issue as soon as possible.”

Lack of protections for workers 

The situation spotlighted Arizona’s lack of protections for employees who work without air conditioning in summer.

The Industrial Commission of Arizona, which enforces employment laws in the state, does not have specific standards about heat.

Agency spokesman Trevor Laky said it is critical employees have access to water, rest and shade.

That does not mean regulators won’t investigate complaints of hot working conditions.

“If any employee feels like they are working in dangerous conditions, they need to contact us immediately,” Laky said.

The commission’s website has a list of resources on heat-stress awareness.

A cool fix, and a thank you

Thundercloud, who started working at the store four weeks ago, said she had gotten sick more than once from working in the heat.

She questioned the company’s dedication to employees, saying that although she needed the job to help support her children, it wasn’t worth the suffering.

But things were much better on Friday.

“The store is good,” she said. “Thank you.”

Need help? Call for Action can assist

Have you been scammed? Do you have a complaint against a business or government agency? The Arizona Republic/ and Call For Action can investigate. We’re #HeretoHelpAZ.

Since the partnership began in 2019, Call for Action has saved consumers more than $250,000.

Fill out this online form, text HereToHelpAZ to 51555, or call 602-444-2255 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to talk to a Call for Action volunteer.

Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Republic. If you’re the victim of fraud, waste or abuse, reach him at [email protected] or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen

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Republic reporter Rebekah L. Sanders is here with #HereToHelpAZ to help you with any consumer-protection issues you may have. Isabel Greenblatt/

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