Af­ter ‘botch,’ Wal­mart moves to keep its dis­abled greeters

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - People On The Move - By Michael Ru­binkam

Wal­mart en­dured more than a week’s worth of bad pub­lic­ity be­fore an­nounc­ing it would make “ev­ery ef­fort” to find a role for dis­abled work­ers who had been threat­ened with job loss as the re­tailer gets rid of greeters at 1,000 stores.

Amid a fierce back­lash, 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. Sev­eral greeters were of­fered new jobs at their re­spec­tive stores on Fri­day and ac­cepted.

Ad­vo­cates for the dis­abled said Wal­mart is mak­ing the right move.

“By re­think­ing their ac­tion, Wal­mart is now open­ing the door to ac­tu­ally help in­di­vid­u­als re­al­ize their full em­ploy­ment po­ten­tial,” said Ch­eryl Bates-Har­ris, se­nior dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cacy spe­cial­ist at the Na­tional Dis­abil­ity Rights Net­work.

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 also 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 of­fices in Ben­tonville, Ark.

“This was a ma­jor­league botch,” said Craig John­son, pres­i­dent of Cus­tomer Growth Part­ners, a re­tail con­sul­tancy, adding that Wal­mart should have fore­seen the pub­lic’s re­ac­tion.

“Hope­fully they’re now woke and they’ll fix this thing the right way,” John­son said. “The good news is it’s re­versible.”

Fo­ran ac­knowl­edged the change from greeter to host, and its im­pact on dis­abled work­ers, had “cre­ated some con­ver­sa­tion.” He wrote that Wal­mart was com­mit­ted to do­ing right by these em­ploy­ees, not­ing that greeters with dis­abil­i­ties would be given longer than the cus­tom­ary 60 days to find other jobs.

“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,” said his memo.

Wal­mart has al­ready started mak­ing job of­fers to the greeters. At least three long­time greeters — Adam Catlin in Selins­grove, Pa., Jay Mel­ton in Mar­ion, N.C., and Mitchell Hartzell in Hazel Green, Fla., all of whom have cere­bral palsy — have ac­cepted jobs in self-check­out.

Fo­ran 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.”


Mitchell Hartzell, who has cere­bral palsy, has ac­cepted a new job of­fered by Wal­mart.

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