As Walmart eliminates greeters, a worker's dream in Limbo is: NPR

In February, Justin Kelley was among the workers of about 1,000 Walmarts who learned that their jobs as people greeters would be eliminated. Like Kelley, many of them were workers with disabilities who found themselves in limbo.

Alina Selyukh / NPR

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Alina Selyukh / NPR

In February, Justin Kelley was among the workers of about 1,000 Walmarts who learned that their jobs as people greeters would be eliminated. Like Kelley, many of them were workers with disabilities who were in limbo.

Alina Selyukh / NPR

A weekend in February, Justin Kelley, 33, made the biggest financial commitment to his life. He paid a friend to start tailoring a plane boat. He had dreamed of owning one since an early age.

"It's my playground. It's my freedom," says Kelley. On land he uses a walker to get around and a wheelchair at work because has cerebral palsy. But on an airboat on a Florida lake? "For me it's the only place that when I'm in that seat, you don't see walker. You don't see the chair … It's my escape. It's my happy place."

But two days after putting money into the boat, Kelley found out that his job was in danger. He was one of the greeters at about 1,000 Walmart stores who were told their positions would be eliminated in late April. It gave them about 60 days to get assigned or take off and leave.

"All my life is in wait," says Kelley, sitting on the wooden steps of his house in Lake Wales, Fla. "All I've worked for is standing still."

Since 2016, Walmart has replaced greeters with "hosts," more focused on security and assistant buyers. But for current greeters like Kelley to qualify for the new front doors, they must now meet new criteria. For example, it includes lifting 25 pounds or climbing a ladder.

One, two, three – Kelley counts more than half a dozen surgical wounds on his legs – hoarding, ankle, "they shattered my shin to try to straighten that foot, he says, actually. He can lift and climb if He must, in a private setting, adjust his body. But do this regularly and safely for work? Kelley does not qualify.

According to Walmart, the majority of greeters who expressed interest in another role will turn to new roles within the 60 days "In some cases, we could identify roles very early in the process," says spokesman Kory Lundberg, "but for others, the 60-day transition has helped people look at all their opportunities to help them make the best decision for them. . "(Note: Walmart is one of NPR's financial sponsors.)

When Kelley sits on the porch, the day 49 of his wait for a call from HR, he says he has a good leader who is fighting to Find him a new position, but Kelley also has someone who wants to buy his boat.

"Then I start selling things I've just bought?" Kelley says the selling boat would float for a while, but he spent five years "Do I take my dream right now and only buy sales signal purchases? What should I do?"

Kelley's assumption will sound familiar to other greeters with disabilities. their families shared similar accounts – of uncertainty, hope and anxiety of waiting for a business decision. Kelley does not know that he, as he speaks, has actually been settled in. He will know it in a few hours.

One day in life

Airboating is great in central Florida, where the citrus groves are webbed with lakes and swamps. These boats are flat, with a giant prop in the back and usually an aircraft engine. They can run in shallow water and even spots of dry land in the marshes.

Kelley has been enamored with airboats since he was a teenager, fishing, hunting, just cruising. Of all the sounds in the world, the boat's roar is one that calms him. Around here you can ride for hours, even days, and never hit the same spot twice, says Kelley. "We can see water buffalo, ax deer, turkey, hog, streets. Just clean the land of God."

Growing up, Kelley says he often felt that people believed their parents were bad for how they pushed him to be self-sufficient. As if you can't climb a truck yourself, you can't go on a walk. Now, says Kelley, he thanks them for it all the time.

"All I've worked for is standing still," Kelley said.

Alina Selyukh / NPR

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Alina Selyukh / NPR

"All I've worked for is standing still," Kelley said.

Alina Selyukh / NPR

In fact, he spends so much time outdoors, and on the town he says he goes through hikers "as if they are out of style" three times faster than he prescribed new ones.

"Fortunately for me, most of my friends are welders, so we'll fix it, rig it for work," he says. "Or my mom and dad, it'll be my Christmas gift … a walker." 19659008] Today, he climbs into the passenger seat of a sedan in his sandy driveway, a friend drives him to work – Kelley's Walmart is nearly 9 miles away, and Kelley doesn't live near public transportation, so he stitches rides from friends and $ 12 Ubers, get ready in advance in case a trip goes through and the nearest Uber is 20 minutes away.

"It's not like my life goal [is] to live off a disability check I don't want a home I want Don't have free medical stuff. I want to say that I paid for everything myself, says Kelley. His dream is classic: Stable work, a house, wife and children, a couple of acres with a barn for their boat.

After some false starts at other jobs after high school, Kelley spent a year looking for work before joining Walmart. He's been there nine years.

"For me to say I work for a company [where] I got 401 (k), I got the chance to get insurance. It meant a lot to me," says Kelley. "I take a lot of pride in it."

Finally, news

In the shop where he works, everyone else shopper seems to know Kelley by name. On the way, people stop talking about fishing, weekend plans, children and of course boats. On the way out, they have receipts ready for Kelley to check. Shoppers greet he even after he watches out and waits outside for a home in Uber.

"I love him to death, he's a good guy," says Ronald Smith, who came by to get medicine for his wife. "Even if you got there with an attitude, you start with a good mood right then – it's my friend, I'm going to have a good time shopping."

Every day he's in, ask Kelley his bosses if they've heard of their business from the company. Most days they have not. But on day 49 of his wait – they have news. And that is good.

Walmart redistributes Kelley. Like many other greeters with disabilities, Kelley will now help self-service customers.

Lundberg, spokesman for Walmart, says the general "greeters have accepted jobs in nearly 50 different roles in the stores, from the new customer service position to the cake decorator." He says the purpose of the 60-day process was to provide workers and save time to review every opportunity and needed accommodation, and find the best fit "to better serve the customer."

Kelley signed her bid on the spot.

"He came in last night, he was so happy," says Haley Seagraves, whose family shares a house with Kelley. Her husband and Kelley became best friends after meeting through Walmart. "[Kelley] continued to smile, and I said," Why are you so happy? "And he was like," Because I love this job! ""

Kelley is excited about stability. Although he also already cares about adding up rides for a new schedule. But he is grateful.

"Great emphasis on my shoulders," he says and laughs. "There is no boat for sale no more, that's for sure."

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