Our Opinion: Walmart policy cruel to disabled employees

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Attention, Walmart shoppers and anyone else with a social conscience: The world's largest corporation, based on annual revenue, must scrimp in order to widen its profit margin (Eagle, March 1). The Walton family, the heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is the richest on the globe — beating out the Koch brothers, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on Forbes' list of wealthiest families. Through the holding company they control, the Waltons own half the stock in the company. According to Politifact and the Urban Institute, the family's net worth was equal to that of the bottom 40 percent of the American people combined as of 2014.

Even the most dedicated free-marketers and devotees of trickle-down theory might take a deep breath at such a disparity in wealth. Researchers argue over the specific figures, but Walmart employees cost American taxpayers billions per year in social assistance programs, such as food stamps and housing subsidies, because their paltry wages don't stretch far enough.

In a new and even crueler wrinkle, Walmart announced last month that it will terminate the "people greeters," a post often filled by disabled employees, at 1,000 stores. Instead, the company is creating a new position, "customer host," that will largely encompass the greeter's role. This position comes with some requirements, like the ability to lift a 25-lb. package, collect carts and stand for long periods. Cynically, management also encouraged its current greeters to apply for these new jobs.

The Walton family, which like President Trump just happened to win the birth lottery, probably embraces the economic strategy behind such a move, but its members appear to be blind to its human cost. The dignity and sense of self-worth the greeter position conferred upon thousands of disabled employees cannot be measured in economic terms, but it will be easy enough to arrive at that figure if they are thrown out of work and, due to their particular circumstances unable to find other jobs.

After a severe backlash to the decision from Walmart workers and the public, company President & CEO Greg Foran felt compelled to write a Feb. 28 memo to employees wherein he extended the standard 60-day period for displaced employees to find other work within the company and indicated that "every effort" would be made to help those who wished to continue working there. Time will tell if Mr. Foran's sentiments were genuine or merely a ham-handed attempt at damage control.

The word "shame" does not appear to be part of the vocabulary of Walmart or its ruling family. One thing is certain, however: If former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's assertion is accurate that "corporations are people too, my friend," then this one deserves a trip to the woodshed.

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