Court of Rachel Wasser
If you ask John Combs what his biggest concern is, he will say, "How should I feed red?"
Red is actually white. He is a labradoodle rescue, just high enough for combs for pets if he comes across the armchair. Combs, 42, have cerebral palsy. He's having trouble talking. But he has no trouble saying which line most Americans have heard at least once: "Welcome to Walmart!"
Combs has one of Walmart's trademark in front of door jobs: He is a "people greeter" in a shop in Vancouver, Wash. But he was told, come on April 25, his job goes away. And he's not alone. According to Walmart, greeters are removed at about 1,000 stores around the country.
NPR has found that Walmart changes the job requirements of doormen in a way that seems disproportionately affecting workers with disabilities. Greeters with disabilities in five states told NPR that they expect to lose their jobs after April 25.
Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States and has a large workforce of workers with disabilities. And the greeter job has been a particularly attractive fit, as it is not physically strenuous and easy to learn.
But Walmart has eliminated the greeters and replaced them with "customer hosts", who have extended responsibilities, such as taking care of security or assisting customers. The change will take effect at the end of April. It is the last wave in a policy that Walmart started in 2016. It has already hit around 1,000 stores.
According to interviews with employees and documents reviewed by the NPR, to qualify for these new hosts, workers must be able to lift 25 pounds, clean up games, collect wagons and stand for long periods, including – tasks that may be impossible for Disabled. Workers say they have been told that they must be able to climb a ladder to qualify for some of the other jobs in the store.
Court of Rachel Wasser
"I don't want to lose this job. This is a real job I have," says Combs, as he sighs deeply. Four days a week he wakes up at 6am to make it work by 10. In October, his family threw a party to mark their two-year anniversary at Walmart – even his sick mother celebrated.
Including Combs, five Walmart greeters with disabilities who fear losing their job in April, have now spoken to the NPR, either directly or through a family member. They are in Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, Alabama and Maryland. The workers also said that the changes affected their employees who are older or have disabilities.
In response to NPR's inquiry, Walmart recognized the effect on workers with disabilities. Spokesperson Kory Lundberg said on Monday that the company will now give greeters with disabilities more time than April 25 to find new housing:
"We recognize that our employees with physical disabilities are facing a unique situation. With that in mind, we Be prolonging the current 60-day greeter transition period for people with disabilities while examining the circumstances and potential accommodations of each person that can be done within each store, allowing employees to continue their employment in the store as valuable team members while searching for one. acceptable, customized solution for everyone involved. "
NPR has also learned about several complaints against Walmart with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a lawsuit – all of the greeters with disabilities who previously lost their jobs after the claims were changed.
Walmart allegedly filed a statement in two of the EEOC cases, but had not provided a copy to the NPR after publication time. The company has not yet responded to the allegations in the case.
An EEOC claim was filed in October by two cousins in Michigan, both using wheelchairs and saying they lost their greeter jobs last year. Another has been filed in Wisconsin, where a former greeter says that last year she was forced to do a worse paying and more physically demanding job. A third claim is expected in Texas, where a greeter with cerebral palsy says she has been on extended leave since the job changed in mid-2017. Another greeter, who lost her job in Utah in 2016, sued Walmart in January.
"We had heard isolated events previously, maybe two in the last three years, but begin on Monday, we had an influx of conversations," said Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior Disability Advocacy Specialist at the National Disability Rights Network It was February 18 when the story of a greeter in Pennsylvania went viral on Facebook. [FromFridayatleastadozenWalmartworkersinsevenstateshadcomeouttolocalgroupsforhelpBates-Harrissaideveryonehadbeentoldthattheirjobdescriptionshadchangedrecentlyorearlier
None of the workers, their lawyers or lawyers have seen any paperwork explaining the policy or its timeline, the NPR said.  Walmart had largely explained his plan to eliminate greeters in a 2016 post, "offering customers more at the door." Walmart says it expects more than 80 percent of affected greeters will be able to find new positions. (Note: Walmart is one of NPR's economic supporters.)
"It's been very stressful," said 32-year-old Mitchell, who says the job as a greeter is being eliminated in Alabama. He has been doing the job for four years. "It gives me a place to go every day, where I'm not sitting at home. I'm not one of those people in the wheelchair who wants to take out social security benefits. I can work, I want to work; I want to be out in the community."  NPR does not share Mitchell's surname because of his fear of retaliation from management. However, two other workers and their partner parties spoke to the NPR only anonymously for fear of disturbing local leaders.
The most shared story has been in Pennsylvania, where Adam Catlin, a Walmart greeter with cerebral palsy, faces job losses after 10 years. Nearly 4,000 comments have lingered on their mother's Facebook post, prompting people to call Walmart's business line to advocate Catlin's employment.
"They told me that the job code would change, and I must be able to get up and raise 25 pounds," Catlin, 30, told the NPR last week. "I asked them about suggestions and the manager said he didn't know what to tell me."
The legal implications are complicated and depend on each store's response to each affected greeter.
The Americans With Disabilities Act does not exclude companies from changing job descriptions and expected job functions to suit their business goals.
Dealers are under a lot of pressure to keep costs down, and especially Walmart has been jockeying for dominance against one of its biggest rivals, Amazon. In the last quarter, a remarkable part of Walmart's profits came from his online store. And the chain relies on the staff at the front of their stores to help customers put bags in their cars.
"An employer can change the nature of the job given their business needs, but then you still have the right to help a person who is disabled, do the job, says Jonathan Mook, a Labor Attorney at DiMuroGinsberg who specializes in ADA.
He said an employer could offer the displaced worker a "similar" job, finding ways to adapt the requirements to the worker or even the grandfather of the long-term employees.
"What [the ADA] requires is an interactive process," said Mook, "a kind of dialogue with the disabled person, to see if there is anything that can be done to help or Make it possible for this person to do the newly developed or newly reconfigured job. "
ADA's requirement is that businesses provide" affordable accommodation "for workers with disabilities who face changing job needs, as long as the worker can perform the" essential functions "of the job, and the question of whether the stores meet this standard must be answered individually.
For Combs in Washington, sister Rachel Wasser said that the store has not offered any new positions or retirement. As For Catlin from Pennsylvania, Walmart has met him and his family, but they have not yet reached any solution.
In the lawsuit filed in Utah, former greets Manase Yokwe claim that in mid-2016, greeters were asked to raise their hands if they could not work while they were standing – and those who did were later asked to consider contractual agreements. Yokwe defendant also claims that at least two other greeters with disabilities did not get new jobs in the store.
In Michigan, cousins John and Joe Wirth, both using wheelchairs and filing EEOC claims against Walmart, say their local manager didn't help them find new jobs in the store when their greeter positions were phased out.
They also claim that they were being forced to sign papers stating that departure was voluntary to receive their final paycheck. In Joe Wirth's separation message given to the NPR, an inscription says he left "career opportunities".
Wirthene also issued a statement from his former colleague, a third greeter with disability, who also lost his job in April after 12 years in the store.
"I don't think they're really invested in greeters, and that's a shame," said John Wirth, 36. On his last day at Walmart in April, he said he took his usual two buses in the clock, just to Discovering his emblem did not work. He was told to turn in his yellow vest, emblem and five-year pin. "They might be happy with what you decide to do," he said. "And it is after almost 12 years."
Walmart has had a complicated history as an employer for the disabled. It has had a "Diversity and Inclusion" initiative since 2003 and has managers dedicated to disability. In a 2017 report, it said it had a top score on the "Disability Equality Index" for two consecutive years. The index is rated by a group of disabled and business leaders. Walmart also said it was "called" DEI's best places to work, "in recognition of business-wide initiatives focused on promoting disability inclusion."
But the company has also historically encountered a number of ADA lawsuits and in 2001 reached a nationwide consent agreement with the EEOC of $ 6.8 million that 13 ADA cases were settled related to disabled-related issues, the job seekers in one "hiring questionnaire." In 2005, Walmart was exposed to a leaked internal note that suggested cutting down health costs by, among other things, requiring that all jobs include physical activity.
The workers and their families feel destroyed by the latest eliminations of greeter jobs. Fred Wirth – Joe's father – said his son felt stuck in his back after serving six years at Walmart. "I'm going to tell you our view is we think it's just a systematic way to get rid of all the disabled," Fred Wirth said. "Whether it's right, wrong or indifferent, we've seen it so well."
NPR researcher Will Chase contributed to this report.