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Diversity Thrift accepts employees' demand to raise base pay, start sexual harassment training

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The nonprofit that runs Diversity Thrift has agreed to make significant changes after employee protests over working conditions and their contention that a sexual harassment allegation was mishandled by store management.

Many of the employees of the store, which raises money for the LGBTQ community, made complaints on Nov. 6 to management and the board of Diversity Richmond, the nonprofit that runs it. About 10 employees refused to work on Nov. 6, and about 15 employees were joined by supporters protesting outside the store on Nov. 7.

Protests continued last Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday evening, the Diversity Richmond board’s executive committee heard from employees during a five-hour meeting while the sounds of protest pierced the walls of the store on Sherwood Avenue.

The board has agreed to raise base pay from $11 to $15 per hour. The board will hire a human resources manager and will mandate in-person sexual harassment training for all employees. The thrift store has 16 nonmanagement employees, many of whom are LGBTQ and people of color.

Jeremy Stump, a weekend truck driver with Diversity Thrift who helped lead the employee protest, said employees were overcome with emotion at the decisions by the board to improve conditions.

“We realize this is such a rare thing to happen and we’re so excited and humbled by what we’ve done,” he said Friday. “We’re ready to keep fighting because it’s definitely still not over.”

Next steps include persuading the board to allow employees to work full time, he said, and giving them health benefits. Many rely on Medicaid and have been told they’re not allowed to work full time, he said.

Employees also had demanded that Bill Harrison, the president and executive director of Diversity Richmond, be removed from leadership. They alleged that Harrison mishandled an allegation of sexual harassment by a store employee against a supervisor. Harrison acknowledged that he allowed that supervisor, who had resigned, to return to work at the store.

Harrison said he decided to retire on Wednesday. He said he hadn’t yet had the chance to talk with the board about the employee concerns but has asked to do so. He said he planned to retire next year, but decided that now would be best following the employees raising concerns.

“Through my leadership over the past 10 years, Diversity Richmond has become one of the most respected, well-known, productive LGBT organizations in the region,” he said. “And that is a legacy that I’m very proud to leave.”

Harrison said he wished Diversity Richmond the very best.

“It’s been my heart and soul for a decade,” he said.

Harrison joined Diversity Richmond in 2012 after 17 years as government and public affairs director of the American Red Cross Greater Richmond chapter and was also the first public information officer with the Virginia Department of Health’s Bureau of STD/AIDS, according to Diversity Richmond’s website.

Employees also have demanded that Dia Idleman, Diversity Richmond’s controller, be removed from leadership.

Idleman will be on paid administrative leave during an investigation of workplace practices, according to a news release from Diversity Richmond. Idleman did not respond to a Thursday email offering the chance to comment for this story.

The statement said Diversity Richmond is committed to quickly filling gaps in staffing, and announced the pay and sexual harassment training enhancements. The statement said Diversity Richmond was launching an investigation into organization staffing, management, leadership, structure, culture and policies.

“We were able to listen intently to the concerns of the employees on Tuesday,” said Luise “Cheezi” Farmer, chair of Diversity Richmond’s board, in the statement. “We want Diversity Richmond’s environment to be one where no employee or staff member feels unsafe or unappreciated. We admit that we have learned a lot during this process, and will continue to learn as we move forward.”

Employees are invited to a Monday meeting of the board to discuss the initiatives.

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