UPDATE (3/1/19) After more than a week of backlash, Walmart is pledging to make “every effort” to find other roles for disabled workers who’d accused the retailer of targeting them as it prepares to eliminate the “people greeter” job at 1,000 stores.
Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart’s U.S. stores, said in a memo to store managers Thursday night that “we are taking some specific steps to support” greeters with disabilities. Walmart released the memo publicly.
Walmart told greeters around the country last week that their positions were being eliminated in late April in favor of an expanded “customer host” role that involves not only welcoming customers, but helping with returns, checking receipts to help prevent shoplifting and keeping the front of the store clean. The position requires hosts to be able to lift heavy weights, climb ladders and do other tasks.
People with disabilities who have traditionally filled the greeter job at many stores accused Walmart of acting heartlessly. Outraged customers and others started online petitions, formed Facebook support groups and called and emailed Walmart corporate to register their displeasure.
Acknowledging the change had “created some conversation,” Foran wrote: “Let me be clear: If any associate in this unique situation wants to continue working at Walmart, we should make every effort to make that happen.”
Walmart initially told greeters they would have the customary 60 days to land other jobs at the company. Amid the uproar, the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for greeters with disabilities.
Walmart has already started making job offers to the greeters. At least two longtime greeters — Adam Catlin in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, and Jay Melton in Marion, North Carolina, both of whom have cerebral palsy — have accepted jobs in self-checkout.
Catlin’s mother, Holly Catlin, helped call public attention to her son’s plight with an impassioned Facebook post and she has since advocated for greeters around the country. After emailing Walmart CEO Doug McMillon every day, Catlin got a call from the corporate office on Thursday, and on Friday morning she and her son met with store management in Selinsgrove.
“I decided I was going to be the squeaky wheel and squeak every day,” Catlin said, adding she’s encouraged by Walmart’s recent moves. “I believe the path forward is going to be good for these people. I think they’re really going to make an effort and try to keep these people.”
In North Carolina, Jay Melton is “happier than a pig in a mud puddle,” said his father, Jim Melton.
Foran, who heads Walmart’s U.S. stores, wrote that greeters with disabilities “face a unique situation … and each case requires a thoughtful solution.” He said that Walmart’s goal is to offer “appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store.”
ORIGINAL STORY: Walmart is getting rid of greeters, worrying the disabled
(2/27/19) As Walmart moves to phase out its familiar blue-vested “greeters” at some 1,000 stores nationwide, disabled workers who fill many of those jobs say they’re being ill-treated by a chain that styles itself as community-minded and inclusive.
Walmart told greeters around the country last week that their positions would be eliminated on April 26 in favor of an expanded, more physically demanding “customer host” role. To qualify, they will need to be able to lift 25-pound (11-kilogram) packages, climb ladders and stand for long periods.
That came as a heavy blow to greeters with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical disabilities. For them, a job at Walmart has provided needed income, served as a source of pride and offered a connection to the community.
Now Walmart, America’s largest private employer, is facing a backlash as customers rally around some of the chain’s most highly visible employees.
Walmart says it is striving to place greeters in other jobs at the company, but workers with disabilities are worried.
Donny Fagnano, 56, who has worked at Walmart for more than 21 years, said he cried when a manager at the store in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, called him into the office last week and told him his job was going away.
“I like working,” he said. “It’s better than sitting at home.”
Fagnano, who has spina bifida, said he was offered a severance package. He hopes to stay on at Walmart and clean bathrooms instead.
Walmart greeters have been around for decades, allowing the retail giant to put a friendly face at the front of its stores. Then, in 2016, Walmart began replacing greeters with hosts, adding responsibilities that include helping with returns, checking receipts to deter shoplifters and keeping the front of the store clean. Walmart and other chains have been redefining roles at stores as they compete with Amazon.
The effect of the greeter phase-out on disabled and elderly employees — who have traditionally gravitated toward the role as one they were well-suited to doing — largely escaped public notice until last week, when Walmart launched a second round of cuts.
As word spread, first on social media and then in local and national news outlets, outraged customers began calling Walmart to complain. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions. Facebook groups sprang up with names like “Team Adam” and “Save Lesley.” A second-grade class in California wrote letters to Walmart’s CEO on behalf of Adam Catlin, a disabled greeter in Pennsylvania whose mother had written an impassioned Facebook post about his plight. Walmart said it has offered another job to Catlin.
In Galena, Illinois, hundreds of customers plan to attend an “appreciation parade” for Ashley Powell on her last day of work as a greeter.
“I love it, and I think I’ve touched a lot of people,” said Powell, 34, who has an intellectual disability.
In Vancouver, Washington, John Combs, 42, who has cerebral palsy, was devastated and then angered by his impending job loss. It had taken his family five years to find him a job he could do, and he loved the work, coming up with nicknames for all his co-workers.
“What am I going to do, just sit here on my butt all day in this house? That’s all I’m going to do?” Combs asked his sister and guardian, Rachel Wasser. “I do my job. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Wasser urged the retailer to “give these people a fair shake. … If you want to make your actions match your words, do it. Don’t be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
With the U.S. unemployment rate for disabled people more than twice that for workers without disabilities, Walmart has long been seen as a destination for people like Combs. Advocacy groups worry the company is backsliding.
“It’s the messaging that concerns me,” said Gabrielle Sedor, chief operations officer at ANCOR, a trade group representing service providers. “Given that Walmart is such an international leader in the retail space, I’m concerned this decision might suggest to some people that the bottom line of the company is more important to the company than inclusive communities. We don’t think those two are mutually exclusive.”
The greeter issue has already prompted at least three complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a federal lawsuit in Utah alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the federal law, employers must provide “reasonable” accommodations to workers with disabilities.
Walmart did not disclose how many disabled greeters could lose their jobs. The company said that after it made the change at more than 1,000 stores in 2016, 80 to 85 percent of all affected greeters found other roles at Walmart. It did not reveal how many of them were disabled.
This time, Walmart initially told greeters they would have 60 days to land other jobs at the company. Amid the uproar, the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for greeters with disabilities.
“We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing said in a statement. The extra time, he said, will give Walmart a chance to explore how to accommodate such employees.
Walmart said it has already made offers to some greeters, including those with physical disabilities, and expects to continue doing so in the coming weeks.
But some workers say they have been tacitly discouraged from applying for other jobs.
Mitchell Hartzell, 31, a full-time Walmart greeter in Hazel Green, Alabama, said his manager told him “they pretty much didn’t have anything in that store for me to do” after his job winds down in April. He said he persisted, approaching several assistant managers to ask about openings, and found out about a vacant position at self-checkout. But it had already been promised to a greeter who doesn’t use a wheelchair, he said.
“It seems like they don’t want us anymore,” said Hartzell, who has cerebral palsy.
Jay Melton, 40, who has worked as a greeter in Marion, North Carolina, for nearly 17 years, loves church, Tar Heels basketball and Walmart. His sister-in-law, Jamie Melton, said the job is what gets him out of bed.
“He doesn’t have a lot of things he does himself that bring him joy,” she said. Addressing Walmart, Melton added: “When you cut a huge population of people out, and you have written a policy that declares they are no longer capable of doing what they have been doing, that is discrimination.”