Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Diversity Richmond employees continue protesting and striking over working conditions

people protesting
About 100 people protested working conditions at an historic LGBTQ+ community center and nonprofit at two separate events this week. (Photo: Meg Schiffres/VPM News)

A group of employees at Diversity Richmond are protesting what they call unsafe working conditions at the historic LGBTQ+ community center and nonprofit. 

About a hundred people protested outside Diversity Richmond on Monday and Tuesday. About 15 of the protesters are employees, who are refusing to come to work until all their demands are met. 

Protesters were demanding a $16 per hour base pay, an increase in the number of full-time employees, and the power to appoint someone to represent employees on the board of directors. 

The protesters are also demanding an investigation of sexual harassment allegations that they say led to a hostile work environment. Protesters and employees are demanding the accused individual be barred from the property. 

They’re also demanding proactive measures, like a human resources department and mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees, and the resignation of Bill Harrison, Diversity Richmond’s president and executive director, and the chief accountant, Dia Idleman, who they say have covered up the sexual harassment allegations. 

On Tuesday, members of the nonprofit’s executive committee met with striking employees and made commitments to meet some of their demands, but would not commit to increasing staffing or firing Harrison or Idleman. 

According to Jeremey Stump, a truck driver at Diversity’s thrift store and one of the lead organizers of the strike, the committee agreed to an increase in the company’s base pay rate to $15 an hour starting Dec. 1. They also committed to hiring a human resources representative for the organization, mandating sexual harassment training, and banning people accused of sexual harassment from the property. 

But, protesters say they won’t return to work until the rest of their demands are met. 

“The sexual harassment matter in particular began in July, the unsafe labor conditions have been going on for months and years,” Stump said. “But we are confident coming out of this meeting that change is coming and change is coming soon.”

Workers say they’re being injured on the job due to a lack of reliable staffing.

“We really think the strenuous workload, and the injuries that result because of it, could be easily avoided with the hiring of more staff,” Stump said. 

Employees say the organization relies on community service workers to do essential work, instead of regular paid staff, and then makes paid employees pick up the slack when problems arise.

“Diversity Thrift definitely emphasizes on the free labor of community service workers and tries to capitalize off that,” Stump said. “And when they don't show up is when injuries really start to happen. And we're left with a skeleton crew of the people that actually work there.” 

Employees say that for the amount of work they’re expected to do, the company’s current $11 base pay wasn’t nearly enough. 

“We definitely believe ourselves to be overworked and underpaid,” Stump said. 

According to the investigative non-profit ProPublica, in 2019 Diversity Richmond earned $1,332,692 in revenue. 

This isn’t the first time issues related to working conditions at Diversity Richmond have come to the executive board’s attention. In August, workers including former program coordinator Evan Smith submitted an anonymous letter detailing serious complaints against the organization that they say have been largely ignored. 

Racism and transphobia 

Employees have alleged racism and transphobia at Diversity. They also complain that the administration persistently misgenders and dead names transgender and gender non-conforming staff members. 

Josie Bryant works behind the cash register at Diversity Thrift. She says despite making her pronouns clear to administrators and customers, they are frequently disrespected. 

“Even when I correct them multiple times, I'll wear my pronouns and still have them ignored within the staff,” Bryant said. “One of my coworkers’ pronouns were regularly not respected, just because they didn't necessarily present in a way that I guess made management take it seriously.”

These concerns were raised by employees in the anonymous letter, and the administration then made promises to provide employees with training on correct pronoun usage. Smith says before he left the organization, he received a very brief training. But Josie, who started working at the thrift store recently, says she never received any training on combating transphobia or racism in the workplace. 

“You  would think that an LGBTQ+ organization wouldn’t need such a thing, or that would already be a part of our training anyway, but it is not,” Smith said. 

Employees say harassment is mishandled

The mishandling of a sexual harassment allegation is part of a pattern of harassment within the thrift store, according to Bryant. 

“I'd say it is a pattern, a pattern with certain members of staff. And it is one iteration of that pattern,” Bryant said. 

The particular instance that protesters are pointing to occurred over the summer, and involved the harassment of an employee by a manager at the thrift store. 

According to Stump and current program director Aurora Higgs, a former assistant manager made inappropriate advances toward a subordinate. Stump says senior staff were notified, but no formal investigation was launched. 

The assistant manager was not fired but later resigned from the thrift store. According to Stump, he was later hired back to a more senior position, but does not currently work at the store. 

Employees say Harrison and Idleman are responsible for covering up the sexual harassment scandal by hiding it from Diversity Richmond’s board members. 

“Bill and Dia all act in unison to keep certain information from others so they can make their own decisions,” Evans said. 

Harrison and Idleman declined an interview with VPM News. 

On Wednesday, employees say the executive committee will meet with Diversity Richmond’s full board of directors.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Stump's last name. We have corrected it.