News Article Details

Walmart offers different job to Vancouver's John Combs

Columbian - 3/4/2019

March 02--John Combs of Vancouver, whose impending dismissal as a Walmart greeter along with others around the country sparked a consumer outcry, was offered a new position at his store on Friday, a family member said.

Combs, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, was told he could continue as a greeter at the self-checkout area instead of the front door at the Walmart Supercenter on Southeast 192nd Avenue, said his sister Rachel Wasser of Vancouver.

Wasser said a corporate Walmart official at its Arkansas headquarters told her similar job offers are being made to other disabled greeters nationwide, who've been affected by redefined responsibilities for greeters.

"Walmart seems like they have heard the public and their employees and is letting greeters try out positions," Wasser said in an email.

On Friday afternoon, the Walmart manager at Combs' store, 430 S.E. 192nd Ave., met with Combs, Wasser, her husband Josh Wasser and Combs' job coach at an employment agency. Rachel Wasser came away from the meeting satisfied.

"The manager told us 'if for some reason this position didn't work out, John will continue to be a Walmart employee, and we will go back to the drawing board,' " Wasser said.

Combs' advocates want to have the job description in writing, and the corporate Walmart official agreed.

According to Wasser, the official said in a phone call that "she does not want us to feel rushed, and she wants us to have documentation that matches what we are being offered verbally."

A Walmart spokesperson said Friday night that the company is in the early stages of moving from store greeters to customer hosts.

But "we've already made offers to some greeters, including those with physical disabilities" Kory Lundberg of Walmart said in an email. "John Combs has been offered another role in his store and we are waiting to hear from him. We expect this will continue to be case for other greeters across the country in the coming weeks."

Combs, 42, has limited use of his left hand, no use of his right hand and has difficulty speaking.

He was told last week his greeter job had been reclassified and that he would be laid off April 25, a move that affected disabled Walmart greeters nationwide.

Walmart endured more than a week's worth of bad publicity before announcing publicly that it was making "every effort" to find a role for disabled workers who had been threatened with job loss as the retailer gets rid of greeters at 1,000 stores.

Amid fierce backlash, Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart's U.S. stores, said in a memo to store managers Thursday night that "we are taking some specific steps to support" greeters with disabilities. The chain noted that several greeters were offered new jobs at their respective stores and accepted, according to The Associated Press.

Foran's memo to managers also says "I'm proud that we have a long-standing history of being an employer of choice for people with disabilities. We are proud to be recognized with a 100 percent score by the Disability Equality Index, marking three years in a row for this distinction, which recognizes the initiatives and programs we have in this space to serve both our customers and our associates."

Advocates for the disabled said Walmart is making the right move.

"By rethinking their action, Walmart is now opening the door to actually help individuals realize their full employment potential," Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior disability advocacy specialist at the National Disability Rights Network, told the AP.

Walmart told greeters around the country last week that their positions were being eliminated in late April in favor of an expanded "customer host" role that involves not only welcoming customers but also 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.

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 emailed Walmart corporate offices in Bentonville, Ark., to register their displeasure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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(c)2019 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

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