STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Walmart is saying goodbye to its greeters. The company has confirmed to NPR that it is eliminating the jobs of people who famously welcome you at the door. Greeters can take new positions as what are called customer hosts, but the new job requirements cause trouble for the many greeters who have disabilities. NPR business correspondent Alina Selyukh is here. Hi there, Alina.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.
INSKEEP: What are you hearing from Walmart greeters?
SELYUKH: So I've spent a week hearing from greeters who are essentially expecting to lose their jobs on April 25 or 26. All of them are people with disabilities, and they're worried because this new job of a host has requirements that can be pretty impossible if you're in a wheelchair. I've read the job description, and it says you must be able to, for example, lift 25 pounds or stand for long periods of time.
And then to qualify for other jobs at the store, workers say they've been told they must be able to climb a ladder which is the same issue. And, you know, this greeter job has historically been quite attractive for people with disabilities. It is easy to learn, and also it is not very physically strenuous, but now they're getting replaced with these more demanding jobs...
INSKEEP: Where people are supposed to be moving about in the store a bit more and more actively helping customers.
SELYUKH: And helping shoppers.
SELYUKH: Exactly. And this change from greeter to customer host is happening in about 1,000 stores, and I've spoken to workers from five states. One of them was Mitchell from Alabama, who's been a greeter for four years.
MITCHELL: It gives me a place to go every day, where I'm not sitting at home. I'm not one of these people in the wheelchair that want to draw Social Security. I'm able to work. I want to work. I want to be out in society.
SELYUKH: We're not sharing Mitchell's last name because he's worried about retribution.
INSKEEP: What has Walmart been saying when you've gone to them and reported what you're hearing?
SELYUKH: Well, Walmart has acknowledged the unique situation of workers with disabilities, and the company actually told me they've now decided to give greeters with disabilities more time past April 25 to figure out their job situation.
And you know, Walmart is huge. It is the biggest private employer in the U.S. And so it is one of the largest employers of people with disabilities, and the Americans With Disabilities Act does not preclude companies from changing job descriptions as they see fit.
SELYUKH: But the law does require companies to provide, quote, "reasonable accommodations" as long as the worker can do the essential functions of the job.
INSKEEP: Is this the first time Walmart has been eliminating greeters who are so iconic?
SELYUKH: So we are in the latest wave, actually. Walmart says it's already made the change in about 1,000 stores, and it has been happening since 2016, this replacement with, quote, "customer hosts." And the frustrating part has been that none of the workers I've talked to have actually seen any kind of document explaining the policy or its rollout or how it might be disproportionately affecting workers with disabilities.
I spoke to the family of two workers who were affected by this last year. They're actually cousins, Joe and John Wirth. Both of them use wheelchairs, and say they both lost their jobs as greeters in April. Here's John.
JOHN WIRTH: They were like - they just said good luck with whatever you decide to do. And that's after almost 12 years - just a handshake. And that made me feel like, oh, OK.
SELYUKH: Well, he's clearly not OK. He's pretty distraught. He's been there for 12 years, as he is saying. It's messed up his income, his independence. He says back in April, he took two buses to work like he usually does only to discover his badge didn't work. And he had to turn in his yellow vest.
INSKEEP: Meaning that he was fired without any kind of notice.
SELYUKH: Well, they are sorting all of this out, actually, because the Wirth cousins have a claim against Walmart with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Michigan. I know of two other claims in Texas and Wisconsin, as well as a lawsuit in Utah. Walmart has not commented on those to NPR.
INSKEEP: OK, so April - late April is the date for about 1,000 different stores.
SELYUKH: Correct. And if you're a worker with disabilities who is being affected by this, Walmart says you should have more time.
INSKEEP: Alina, thanks so much.
SELYUKH: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh.
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