NPR: Walmart's elimination of greeters is affecting workers with disabilities
Many Walmart greeters with disabilities are expecting to lose their jobs after April 25 or 26, according to an NPR investigation that looked into Walmart's larger shift to transition the job into a "customer host" role.
The name change comes along with a recent shifting of duties in the job description, which now includes the ability to lift 25 pounds, clean up spills, collect carts and stand for long periods of time — many things that aren't possible for greeters with disabilities, NPR reports. None of the workers that NPR spoke with have seen paperwork that explains the policy or its timeline, the publication reports.
The shift, which began in 2016, has so far affected about 1,000 stores, a Walmart spokesperson confirmed to Retail Dive. In a statement, the company said: "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 while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store. This allows these 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."
Back in 2015, Walmart launched a pilot program to transition the greeter role into a hybrid position that would require an associate to check receipts, assist with returns and help keep entrances clean and safe. The move came after a previous initiative years earlier had shifted greeters into the aisles of stores to help with other tasks like directing traffic at registers.
In a blog posted the following year, executives said the pilot was successful, and that it would begin rolling out the changes to all of its stores by mid-summer. Customers were responding well to having yellow-vest-wearing greeters at the doors to seek advice from, the company said. According to that post, Walmart expected to fill about 9,000 of such positions, which are "specially trained." During the pilot phase, Walmart said more than 80% of affected associates were able to find new positions within the company. For those who chose to leave, though, the company committed to then, and in the future, provide severance pay.
Job descriptions for hourly roles often change, especially in a retail landscape where customer behavior is rapidly changing and service has become a paramount differentiator for brick-and-mortar retailers competing with e-commerce players like Amazon. For Walmart, arguably one of the most difficult places to find what you're looking for and check out amid the maze of a Supercenter, greeters have served as a part of the company culture and attempted to brighten up the customer experience.
Given that labor costs are rising — Walmart committed to an $11 minimum wage last year — and brick-and-mortar retailers are under increasing pressure to funnel more money into their online businesses, it makes sense that Walmart would look to maximize the time of its store associates. That said, many retailers are taking the opposite tack — using technology and other processes to free up employees to spend more time with customers.
If Walmart doesn't find ways to accommodate employees with disabilities, it could face a flurry of lawsuits from affected employees and labor rights activists. The negative attention from those could tarnish a reputation the company has worked to improve over the past few years with investments in employees through training programs like its Academies to drive management advancements, funding assistance to pay for college, and an expansion of maternity and parental leave.
Follow Corinne Ruff on Twitter