"How will I feed Red?" says John Combs when asked about his main concern.
The color red is actually white. He's a labradoodle rescue, and if Combs reaches over the armrest of his wheelchair, he can pet him. Combs, 42, is a cerebral palsy patient. He has a hard time communicating. But he has no trouble pronouncing the phrase "Welcome to walmart wire!" that most Americans have heard at least once.
Combs works as a "people greeter" at a Walmart in Vancouver, Wash., one of Walmart's signature front-door professions. However, he was informed that his employment would be eliminated on April 25. And he's not the only one. Greeters are being phased out of around 1,000 Walmart shops across the country, according to Walmart.
Walmart is modifying the employment standards for front-door greeters, according to NPR, in a way that looks to disproportionately harm workers with disabilities. Disability greeters in five states told NPR that they anticipate to lose their employment on April 25 or 26.
Walmart is the country's largest private employer and employs a considerable number of people with disabilities. And the profession of greeter has shown to be a particularly appealing match because it isn't physically demanding and is simple to learn.
However, Walmart has begun phasing out greeters in favor of "customer hosts," who have broader responsibilities like as security and aiding customers. The new policy will take effect at the end of April. It's the next phase of a Walmart policy that began in 2016. Approximately 1,000 stores have already been impacted.
According to NPR's conversations with workers and analysis of documentation, workers must be able to lift 25 pounds, clean up spills, collect carts, and stand for lengthy periods of time, among other things – duties that some individuals with disabilities may find impossible. Workers claim that in order to qualify for some of the store's other jobs, they must be able to climb a ladder.
"This is a job I don't want to lose. This is a legitimate position I hold "Combs says this as he sighs deeply. He gets up at 6 a.m. four days a week to make it to work by 10. His family threw him a party to honor his two-year anniversary at Walmart in October, and even his ailing mother joined up.
Five Walmart greeters with impairments, including Combs, have now talked to NPR, either directly or through a family member, about their fears of losing their jobs in April. They can be found in Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, Alabama, and Maryland, among other places. The workers also stated that the modifications were affecting their elderly or disabled coworkers.
NPR has also learned of other complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Walmart, as well as a lawsuit – all filed by greeters with disabilities who had previously lost their employment due to changing expectations.
Walmart is said to have filed a statement in two of the EEOC cases, but as of publishing time, NPR had not received a copy. The corporation has yet to reply to the lawsuit's allegations.
Two cousins in Michigan filed an EEOC claim in October, both of whom need wheelchairs and claim to have lost their greeter employment last year. Another lawsuit was filed in Wisconsin, where a former greeter claims she was coerced into a lower-paying and physically demanding job last year. In Texas, a greeter with cerebral palsy claims she has been on an extended leave of absence since her work changed in mid-2017. In January, another greeter who lost his job in Utah in 2016 filed a lawsuit against Walmart.
"We had heard isolated incidences in the past, maybe two in the last three years," said Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior disability advocacy expert at the National Disability Rights Network. "But starting on Monday, we got an onslaught of calls." The story of a greeter in Pennsylvania went viral on Facebook on Feb. 18.
According to Bates-Harris, at least a dozen Walmart employees in seven states had reached out to local organizations for assistance as of Friday. All of them had been advised that their job descriptions had recently or previously altered.