Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘disabilities’

Walmart will 'make every effort' to keep disabled greeters, but it's not making any real promises

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Faced with a widespread backlash over its elimination of greeter jobs that can be held by people with disabilities, Walmart is backtracking, maybe. The president and CEO of Walmart’s U.S. stores sent out a memo—and provided it to the press—saying that “If any associate in this unique situation wants to continue working at Walmart, we should make every effort to make that happen.” That’s nice, and it’s a clear indication of the pressure the company has come under, but it’s nowhere near a commitment to workers with disabilities.

Walmart’s greeter position has long been an opportunity for people who can’t stand for long periods or lift heavy weights, but recently the retail chain announced that it would be phasing out those jobs and replacing them with “customer hosts” who have to be able to lift 25 pounds, clean spills, and in some cases climb ladders. That was a major blow to many of the people for whom those greeter jobs have been a lifeline. “I don’t want to lose this job. This is a real job I have,” one man told National Public Radio, saying that his biggest concern was being able to feed his rescue dog.

Former greeters in multiple states have filed Equal Opportunity Employment Commission complaints or lawsuits against Walmart after their jobs were eliminated or changed to jobs that require standing, climbing, or lifting. After the recent outcry, Walmart announced that it would give greeters extra time to find replacement jobs they could do, and then, when that failed to quell the outrage, came the “make every effort” memo. “We are looking into each [case] on an individual basis with the goal of offering appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store,” CEO Greg Foran wrote. One man in North Carolina, for instance, is being transferred to self-checkout.

But don’t assume this issue is settled because Walmart said it would “make every effort” to keep the greeters employed in its stores. That’s not a promise of anything but doing enough to make the issue fade from the headlines.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on March 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Alaska will no longer allow workers with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

As of Friday, Alaskan businesses will no longer be allowed to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage, which is currently $9.84 an hour.

“Workers who experience disabilities are valued members of Alaska’s workforce,” said the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development Acting Commissioner Greg Cashen, in a press release. “They deserve minimum wage protections as much as any other Alaskan worker.”

The state announced last week it would repeal the regulation first put in place in 1978. Alaska joins New Hampshire and Maryland as the first states to get rid of sub-minimum wage for employees with disabilities, an act which is entirely legal under federal law, and has been since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was implemented.

The minimum wage exception was initially created to help those with disabilities get jobs, but despite its intentions, the legislation still fell short. Disability advocates argue the law is outdated and that many disabled individuals can succeed in jobs earning minimum wage or more, and that no other class of people faces this kind of government-sanctioned wage discrimination. In addition to being paid a sub-minimum wage, employees with disabilities often perform their jobs in what are called “sheltered workshops.” This term is generally used to describe facilities that employ people with disabilities exclusively or primarily, but has been interpreted by disability advocates as a form of segregation in the workplace.

Goodwill Industries is arguably one of the biggest offenders when it comes to exploiting this kind of wage discrimination. The company is one of the largest employers for people with disabilities, many of whom are contracted by Goodwill through the government’s AbilityOne program, which ensures contracts are set aside for places that employ workers with disabilities.

Goodwill, however, is a $5.59 billion organization, and many argue they can afford to pay all of their workers a fair wage.

“You’ve got entities that are doing quite well, that are raking in donations, that get government contracts to make everything from military uniforms to…pens to whatever,” says Chris Danielsen, a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind told The Nation. “They get these contracts, and they’re paying their workers less than the minimum wage.”

Goodwill’s own CEO, Jim Gibbons, is blind. In 2015, he raked in more than $712,000 in salary and additional compensation while his disabled employees were making less than $9 an hour in some states.

In a comment to NBC News in 2013, Gibbons defended his salary and the million dollar salaries of other Goodwill executives. At the time, Goodwill’s total compensation for all its franchise CEOs was more than $30 million.

“These leaders are having a great impact in terms of new solutions, in terms of innovation, and in terms of job creation,” he said.

Speaking of those employees with disabilities working for less than minimum wage, he punted. “It’s typically not about their livelihood. It’s about their fulfillment. It’s about being a part of something. And it’s probably a small part of their overall program,” he added.

 Just last week, disability activists were dealt a blow by the House of Representatives, which voted 225 to 192 in favor of a bill that would significantly weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act, letting businesses off the hook for failing to provide accessibility accommodations.

Twenty-two percent of Americans live with some form of disability and 13 percent of those experience mobility issues, such as walking or climbing stairs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The share of people with disabilities is higher among women and people of color: according to the CDC, one in four women have a disability and three in 10 non-Latinx Black people have a disability.

One in three adults who are able to work have reported having a disability, and half of those making less than $15,000 a year have reported a disability as well, according to the CDC’s numbers.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

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