Walmart styles itself as a philanthropic, community-minded and caring company. On occasion, the company assigns employees to staff tables in the stores collecting money for local hospitals. The bosses direct cashiers to ask customers if they want to make a donation to “fight hunger.” Last year a co-worker told me, “Walmart doesn’t pay us well, but at least I like the fact they hire the disabled.” No more.
Walmart announced to its greeters at 1,000 stores in mid-February that their jobs would be eliminated on April 26, to be replaced by “customer hosts.” In addition to saying hello to customers, they would be required to help with returns, keep the storefront clean and check receipts against the contents of bags of customers. They would have to be able to climb ladders, lift 25-pound packages and stand for most of the day. While some greeters will be reassigned and keep their jobs, most who are elderly or have cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical disabilities would be gone.
Walmart greeters have been around for decades, allowing the retail giant to put a friendly face at the front of its stores. But in 2016 Walmart began replacing them with those “hosts.” Walmart and other retail chains have been redefining roles and speeding up work as they move to compete with Amazon.
Workers at the Walmart store where I work, who were once assigned to just the meat department, are now required to work the bakery, the deli and fresh department, in addition to the meat department, as the bosses see fit.
Many workers were outraged at what was being done to their co-workers. “Those with handicaps need jobs too,” one said. Another said, “What Walmart is doing is flat out discrimination against those with disabilities.”
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.
“What am I going to do, just sit here on my butt all day in this house?” Combs asked his sister and guardian, The Associated Press reported. “I do my job. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Public protest begins
The bosses’ heartless move has called forth a torrent of public protest from greeters’ relatives, angry customers, supporters of the rights of workers with disabilities and many others. The bosses in Bentonville, Arkansas, have had to backpedal a little.
Adam Catlin has been a greeter in Selinsgrove, Pa., for nine years and has cerebral palsy. When he and his family heard his job was threatened, his mother Holly Catlin went into action. “I decided I was going to be the squeaky wheel and squeak every day,” she told KTLA-TV. She wrote about her son on Facebook where more than 10,000 people have seen it. She called the company CEO every day. After a week, he was offered a job in self-checkout and took it.
People in Marion, North Carolina, started an online petition for Jay Melton, who’s worked as a greeter for Walmart for 17 years. Over 14,000 people signed it. He got the same job offer as Catlin.
A lawsuit was filed against Walmart in Utah charging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and complaints were filed at the Equal Opportunities Commission.
So Greg Foran, president of Walmart’s U.S. stores, sent a memo to all store managers Feb. 28 telling them to take steps to keep greeters with disabilities on the job. Stay tuned.