After ‘botch’, Walmart moves to keep disabled greeters

WALMART endured more than a week’s worth of bad publicity before announcing publicly that it was making “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 United States (US) stores, said in a memo to store managers on Thursday night that “we are taking some specific steps to support” greeters with disabilities. The chain noted that several greeters were offered new jobs at their respective stores 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 realise 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 favour 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.

Walmart greeter John Combs works at a Walmart store in Vancouver, Washington. – AP

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, Arkansas, to register their displeasure.

“This was a major-league botch,” said Craig Johnson, President of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy, 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.”

For its part, Walmart said Foran’s memo did not signal a change in direction for the company but was meant to reinforce what it was already doing for workers displaced from the greeter job and clear up misinformation.

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 company. AP