Walmart’s Latest Amazon-Slaying Strategy: Firing Disabled Workers

Journalist:
February 26, 2019

There’s something off-putting about a multi-billion dollar company like Walmart doing away with jobs primarily filled by people with disabilities. More than two years ago, the world’s largest retailer began replacing its greeters with so-called “customer hosts on a trial basis, and now the company plans to take the new initiative nationwide.

NPR reported that 1,000 stores would lose these greeter positions as of April 25.

Disabled Walmart Employees Latest Casualty in Retail Wars

Poignantly, the switch disproportionately affects employees who have cerebral palsy and other conditions that didn’t get in the way of Walmart hiring them. Now, the employer seems to see them as no longer as valuable.

Trying to hide under the guise that the move will allow it to improve the customer experience, as Walmart has done, is bologna.

If customer experience was a factor, Walmart wouldn’t have the reputation of having 30 checkout lanes with only 10 open. I digress.

Simply, this move is one of corporate arrogance that I didn’t see Walmart pursuing. Many others aren’t content with it either. They’ve lit up social media platforms like Christmas trees in expressing their outrage.

Never Miss It Until It’s Gone

One of the hallmarks of going to Walmart is being greeted with a smile by the employees as you walk into the store. There’s something about these workers that can even placate your frustration at having to show your receipt when leaving the store.

The thought of these people losing their jobs is gut-wrenching. One can’t help but wonder how a $285 billion company couldn’t leave these greeters in place. Who in the C-Suite thought this was going to go over well and wouldn’t end up running off customers?

Walmart’s Disappointing Defense

In a statement to NPR that I guess was supposed to show some compassion, a Walmart spokesperson said it would “give greeters with disabilities more time beyond April 25 to find new accommodations.”

“We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation. With that in mind, we will be extending the current 60-day greeter transition period for associates with disabilities. This allows associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all of those involved.”

The spokesperson said the extended period would allow it to:

“explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store.”

The elimination of many of these disabled employees follows years’ worth of complaints over Walmart’s labor practices. The company’s practices have even been put under the scrutiny of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC).

Gotta Have Workers Who Can Clean Up Spills!

Back in 2016, Walmart alerted workers, and the public, that it would be shaking up the “greeter” job description.

Here’s an excerpt from that statement:

“We’ve been working to welcome customers to an improved Walmart for some time now, and of the countless details we’ve taken a look at, a key piece has been better utilizing an important role – our greeters.”

It launched a pilot program in 2015 that included the new customer host position. These associates would be tasked with:

  • greeting customers
  • checking receipts
  • helping with customer returns

These are the tasks the greeters already do. It would seem the greeters, including those who are disabled, could just become customer hosts.

NPR pointed out that under federal law, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities. The law requires an “interactive process” between employer and employee to evaluate requests to be accommodated.

Perhaps, Walmart should revisit that federal labor law. That’s because this move to just get rid of existing employees to replace them with people skilled in lifting items wreaks.

Disabled Walmart Employees Aren’t Backing Down

Some of the workers affected by the eliminations are being proactive in trying to keep their jobs. They’ve reached out to the retail giant with their concerns, and a list of their contributions, to Walmart.

In the photo below is Adam Catlin. He is a Walmart greeter with cerebral palsy. He has become somewhat of a hero in all this.

Adam Catlin gets out of a car before starting his shift at a Walmart in Selinsgrove, Pa. Catlin, who has cerebral palsy, is afraid he’ll be out of work after store officials changed his job description to add tasks that he’s physically unable to do. | Source: Holly Catlin via AP

Catlin, who has cerebral palsy, is afraid he’ll be out of work after store officials changed his job description to add tasks that he’s physically unable to do.

Adam’s mother, Holly Catlin, took to Facebook about his job being eliminated. Here’s an excerpt from that heart-wrenching post:

“Due to his disability, he has always had the option to stay home and collect SSI. However, Adam has such a strong desire to work and support himself. He even wanted to go to work rather then the hospital the morning of his heart attack. I am sad and I am sickened to see what a huge blow this is to him. I am putting this out there to make all of you, his friends, that he has made in the community, know, to not expect his smiling face and heartfelt, booming ‘hello’ as you enter those doors in the future. (After April) What a sad loss…to you, and definitely to him.”

Hey Walmart, This Won’t Help You Survive the Amazon Revolution

Amazon and Jeff Bezos have been eating Walmart’s lunch. | Source: REUTERS / Joshua Roberts

It’s not like Walmart can’t afford these salaries. Just last week, CCN reported on the company’s blowout fourth-quarter earnings report. Its share rose after the stellar report, underscoring its growing dominance in the e-commerce space.

Walmart reported adjusted per-share earnings of $1.41, easily topping analysts’ estimate of $1.33. Revenues reached $138.79 billion compared with $138.65 billion expected.

Rolling in that kind of money means that the retailer is doing pretty well, but, of course, it doesn’t mean all is well in Bentonville.

Amazon has left a trail of disrupted retail business models and conquered markets in its wake. Now it has Walmart in its sights.

Clearly, the Arkansas-based company is in the toughest battle of its history as it tries to keep its customers from migrating to Amazon.

However, the concern that it’s cutting out one element, these greeters, who were a pleasure for many customers, could backfire. Walmart says the customer hosts will have expanded duties beyond greeting customers that many disabled workers can’t do.

So their solution is to hand out pink slips.

Ridiculous!

No matter which way Walmart is trying to spin this, the company deserves the mounting criticism it is receiving – and more.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to, CCN.

Featured Image from AP Photo / Elise Amendola, File

Tags: walmart
Tedra DeSue @tedradesue

If you can buy it, trade it, invest in it, or sell it, I write about it. For more than 20 years, I've covered all things finance. Based in Atlanta, Ga., I threw myself into covering the crypto space with a keen understanding that it would be an industry disruptor. I'm in constant search for the real Satoshi Nakamoto!