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U.S. Business Walmart bows to backlash, says it will support workers with disabilities as it phases out greeters

Walmart's logo is seen outside a store in Chicago, Ill., on Nov. 20, 2018.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters

After more than a week of backlash, Walmart Inc. is pledging to make “every effort” to find other roles for disabled workers who had accused the retailer of targeting them as it prepares to eliminate the “people greeter” job at 1,000 U.S. stores.

Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart’s U.S.-based outlets, said in a memo to store managers Thursday night that “we are taking some specific steps to support” greeters with disabilities. Walmart released the memo publicly.

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 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.

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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 e-mailed Walmart corporate offices to register their displeasure.

Acknowledging the change had “created some conversation,” Mr. Foran wrote: “Let me be clear: If any associate in this unique situation wants to continue working at Walmart, we should make every effort to make that happen.”

Walmart initially told greeters they would have the customary 60 days to land other jobs at the company. Amid the uproar, the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for greeters with disabilities.

Walmart has already started making job offers to the greeters. At least two long-time greeters – Adam Catlin in Selinsgrove, Pa., and Jay Melton in Marion, N.C., both of whom have cerebral palsy – have accepted jobs in self-checkout.

Mr. Catlin’s mother, Holly Catlin, helped call public attention to her son’s plight with an impassioned Facebook post and she has since advocated for greeters around the country. After e-mailing Walmart CEO Doug McMillon every day, Ms. Catlin got a call from the corporate office on Thursday and, on Friday morning, she and her son met with store management in Selinsgrove.

“I decided I was going to be the squeaky wheel and squeak every day,” Ms. Catlin said, adding she’s encouraged by Walmart’s recent moves. “I believe the path forward is going to be good for these people. I think they’re really going to make an effort and try to keep these people.”

In North Carolina, Jay Melton is “happier than a pig in a mud puddle,” said his father, Jim Melton.

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Mr. Foran wrote that greeters with disabilities “face a unique situation … and each case requires a thoughtful solution.” He said that Walmart’s goal is to offer “appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store.”

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