While Walmart is progressively phasing out its usual blue greeters in some 1,000 stores across the country, workers with disabilities who hold many of these jobs say they are being abused by a chain that is defined as society open to all and inclusive.
Last week, Walmart announced to officials across the country that their positions would be eliminated on April 26, in favor of a broader and more demanding role as a guest host. To qualify, they must be able to lift 11 kg parcels, climb ladders and stand for long periods.
This was a blow to greeters suffering from cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical disabilities. For them, a job at Walmart helped generate the necessary income, be a source of pride and connect with the community.
At present, Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, is facing a negative reaction as customers gather around some of the most visible employees in the chain.
Walmart says it's striving to place greeters in other jobs within the company, but that disabled workers are worried.
Donny Fagnano, 56, who has been with Walmart for over 21 years, said that he had cried when a manager from the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, store called him to the office last week to tell him that his work was going to disappear.
"I like to work," he said. "It's better than staying at home."
Fagnano, who suffers from spina bifida, has been offered severance pay. He hopes to stay at Walmart and clean the bathrooms instead.
Walmart greeters have been around for decades and have allowed the retail giant to put a friendly face in front of its stores. Then, in 2016, Walmart began replacing hosts with hosts, adding responsibilities such as help with returns, checking receipts to deter thieves from the display and maintaining cleanliness of the shop. Walmart and other channels have redefined roles in the stores while they are competing with Amazon.
The effect of phasing out hospitality on disabled and older employees, traditionally attracted to the role that suited them best, escaped the attention of the public until the week last, when Walmart launched a second round of discounts.
As the news spread, first on social media, then in local and national news outlets, outraged customers began calling Walmart to complain. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions. Facebook groups have emerged with names such as "Team Adam" and "Save Lesley". A sophomore in California wrote to the CEO of Walmart on behalf of Adam Catlin, a disabled Pennsylvania goalie whose mother had written a passionate article on Facebook's critical situation. Walmart said he had offered another job to Catlin.
In Galena, Illinois, hundreds of customers plan to attend a "parade parade" for Ashley Powell on her last day of work as a greeter.
"I like it and I think I have touched a lot of people," said Powell, 34, a mentally handicapped person.
In Vancouver, Washington, 42-year-old John Combs, suffering from cerebral palsy, was devastated and upset by his impending loss of employment. It took his family five years to find a job he could do and he loved the job, offering nicknames to all his colleagues.
"What am I going to do, sit here all day in this house? That's all I'm going to do? Asked Combs, his sister and tutor, Rachel Wasser. "I do my job. I did not do anything wrong. "
Wasser urged the retailer to "shake these people equitably. … If you want your actions to match your words, do it. Do not be a wolf disguised as a sheep.
With an American unemployment rate more than twice that of non-disabled workers, Walmart has long been considered a destination for people like Combs. Rights groups are concerned that society will backtrack.
"These are the messages that concern me," said Gabrielle Sedor, operations manager at ANCOR, a professional group representing service providers. "Given the fact that Walmart is an international leader in the retail sector, I am concerned that this decision does not suggest to some people that societal outcomes are more important to it than inclusive communities. We do not think these two elements are mutually exclusive. "
The issue of greeter has already attracted at least three complaints from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a lawsuit filed by the federal government in Utah, alleging discrimination in the United States. under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under federal law, employers must provide "reasonable" accommodations for workers with disabilities.
Walmart has not revealed how many people with disabilities could lose their jobs. The company said that after making the change in more than 1,000 stores in 2016, 80-85% of all concerned greeters found another role at Walmart. He did not reveal how many of them were disabled.
This time, Walmart first told Greeters that they would have 60 days to land other jobs within the company. In the midst of the tumult, the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for disabled visitors.
"We recognize that our physically challenged associates face a unique situation," Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing said in a statement. The extra time, he said, will give Walmart a chance to explore ways to accommodate such employees.
Walmart said he had already made offers to some users, including those with a physical disability, and that he hoped 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 Walmart employee in Hazel Green, Alabama, said his manager told him, "They had almost nothing to do in this store for me" after the end of his work in April . He stated that he persisted, addressing several assistant directors to inquire into opportunities, and had discovered a vacant position at the cashier. But that had already been promised to a greeter who does not use a wheelchair, he said.
"It looks like they do not want us anymore," said Hartzell, who has cerebral palsy.
Jay Melton, 40, who has been working in Marion North Carolina for nearly 17 years, is a lover of the church, basketball Tar Heels and Walmart. His sister-in-law, Jamie Melton, said that his job allowed him to get out of bed.
"He does not have many things he does himself that brings him joy," she said. Addressing Walmart, Melton added, "When you eliminate a huge population and you have drafted a policy that states that they are no longer able to do what they've done," he said. 39, is a discrimination. "