Allen received a single phone call from Walmart to let her know that she would be losing her position.
Lift 25 pounds, climb a ladder, stand. These are the new qualifications to maintaining a newly formed “customer host” position at Walmart, which is replacing the long standing greeter role. For greeters with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical disabilities, this was a ticket to losing their job indefinitely.
Ann Allen has been working her greeting position at the Camdenton Walmart location for nearly 25 years. At the age of 17, Allen was the victim of a serious car accident which left her without speech and use of her legs. With these disabilities, finding any work was nearly impossible. In 1994, Allen was given the opportunities to continue working as a greeter at Walmart, a position she continued to enjoy until this year. On April 24, Allen will lose her job.
Allen received a single phone call from Walmart to let her know that she would be losing her position. Allen’s caretaker Kari Nevins says she has experienced a lot of frustration with the decision first hand. Nevins sits with Allen during her shifts and says that on Thursday alone, she counted 31 individuals who took the time to come up to Allen and express their sympathies for her losing the job. These people regularly enjoy visiting with Allen on their trips into the store.
“They’re just as upset about this as we are,” Nevins said. “They can’t believe Walmart is doing this.”
Allen’s mother Mariannette Allen says her daughter presents a smile every day she’s at work. She says that, even through Allen’s disabilities and lack of speech, she’s been open through sign language about the concern she has for herself and coworkers based on this decision.
“She may give you the ‘I love you’ sign, a peace sign or a fist bump, but one thing is for sure. She will always give you her best smile and lots of love,” Mariannette said.
Nevins says that Allen works with at least 15 other elderly or disabled greeters and all of them will also be losing their positions. At 56 years old, Allen is worried that she will not be able to find any other work. Some local residents have reached out to offer support, but Allen hasn’t been able to find any replacement work at this time.
This move by Walmart have been reportedly going into effect at nearly 1,000 nationwide stores. Walmart says it will be looking towards new opportunities for these workers, but as previously mentioned, these newly installed positions are not a fit for an employee such as Allen, who can’t meet the physical requirements.
According Nevins and a national report, one common reason associated with this choice was the increase in theft seen at a number of locations. With greeters also tasked with the security checking of receipts when store alarms ring, some see this move as a way to replace older workers with more capable employees to check for theft. Of course, the reason that some say is more obvious is to save money with competition from retail chains such as Target and Amazon.
Even though the change was made quickly, Allen says she will miss her job and would take it back immediately if offered. She says more than anything, she will miss her work friends. Allen used to work multiple days a week. Recently, she’s only been given one multiple hour shift weekly. She says it feels like a second family.
“Ann is part of the family,” Nevins said. “She’s been there every day for the last 25 years, religiously.”
Allen’s sister Patti Raithel says the family is going to help Allen fight through this and find something new. However, she says that, like many others, they hope the pressure being put on the company by community members will reverse the decision.
“We are grateful for the time and opportunity this has given Annie over the years, but it still hurts and it’s upsetting to all of us,” Raithel said.
Walmart would not allow local Camdenton HR members to speak on this issue when contacted.