After a week of damning publicity, Walmart says it will make “every effort” to accommodate disabled workers who feared for their future after the nation’s largest retailer and employer announced it was getting rid of greeters at 1,000 stores.
In a memo to store managers, Walmart CEO Greg Foran said the “people greeters,” as the position was officially known, “recognize these people face a unique situation.”
“And because not all disabilities are the some, each case requires a thoughtful solution,” he said.
Walmart said earlier this week it was eliminating people greeters and replacing them with “customer hosts” to “improve the experience for our customers.”
The new position required workers to be able to lift heavy objects, climb ladders and perform other tasks that disabled employees, who typically had been hired to the greeter position, may have been unable to perform. The new customer hosts are expected not only to greet customers, but also help them process returns, check receipts, help prevent shoplifting and help keep the front of the store clean.
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The move backfired, and Walmart’s image was badly bruised by customers and others who accused the retailer of being heartless toward the disabled. Outraged customers and others started online petitions, formed Facebook support groups, and called and emailed Walmart corporate offices in Bentonville, Arkansas, to register their displeasure.
“This was a major-league botch,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy, told The Associated Press, adding that Walmart should have foreseen the public’s reaction.
“Someone finally woke up,” Johnson said. “Hopefully they’re now woke and they’ll fix this thing the right way. … The good news is it’s reversible.”
Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior disability advocacy specialist at the National Disability Rights Network, told The AP that be reconsidering the action, “Walmart is now opening the door to actually help individuals realize their full employment potential.”
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 in the country.
“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, which Walmart released publicly.
Walmart has already started making job offers to the greeters. At least three longtime greeters — Adam Catlin in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, Jay Melton in Marion, North Carolina, and Mitchell Hartzell in Hazel Green, Florida, all 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 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, Melton is “happier than a pig in a mud puddle,” said his father, Jim Melton.
In the memo to Walmart managers, Foran said it will look at each affected employee on a case-by-case basis “with the goal of offering appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store.”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.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.