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Labor Report

Walmart’s New Job Requirements Hinder Workers with Disabilities

A viral social media post by a Pennsylvania mother may be causing the world’s biggest retail chain to adjust its plans to phase out its “greeter” jobs at thousands of stores across the U.S.

Almost two weeks ago, Holly Catlin of Selinsgrove used Facebook to share the story of her son Adam, who has cerebral palsy and has been a greeter at their local Walmart for the last 10 years. Adam’s employer had just advised him that the company would be changing his job description, and that his new duties would entail lifting and carrying up to 25 pounds, writing reports, “and a lot of other duties that exceed his abilities with his cerebral palsy, using a walker, and low vision,” according to his mom.

“Due to his disability, he has always had the option to stay home and collect SSI (Supplemental Security Income),” Holly Catlin wrote. “However, Adam has such a strong desire to work and support himself. … I am sad and I am sickened to see what a huge blow this is to him.”

Since February 18, the original post has generated almost 5,000 reactions and 4,000 comments. It has been shared almost 10,000 times and attracted the interest of disability rights advocates and the national media. NPR reported that it has spoken with greeters with disabilities in five states including Pennsylvania who expect to lose their jobs after April 25 or 26.

“We had heard isolated incidents in the past, maybe two in the last three years, but starting on Monday (February 18), we got an influx of calls,” Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior disability advocacy specialist for the National Disability Rights Network, told NPR.

The Associated Press reported the story of Donny Fagnano, 56, who has worked at Wal Mart’s Lewisburg store for more than 21 years. Fagnano has spina bifida. When a store manager informed him that the company was eliminating his job, Fagnano wept.

“I like working,” Fagnano told the AP. “It’s better than sitting at home.”

The news service further reported that Wal Mart’s decision disproportionately affects people with disabilities, who are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disabilities. People with disabilities also earn less on average and have a poverty rate more than double that of people who don’t have disabilities.

In response to NPR’s inquiries, Walmart stated: “We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation. With that in mind, we will be extending the current 60-day greeter transition period for associates with disabilities while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made in each store.”

NPR further reported that Walmart has already implemented the new job description in 1,000 stores, and that current or former greeters with disabilities in seven states have filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints against the company. Another greeter has sued the employer.

In a May 2016 post on its corporate blog, Walmart detailed some of the duties of a new “customer host” position that it created to replace greeters. NPR noted that while it’s a company’s prerogative to establish or redefine job duties and descriptions, the law protects workers with disabilities from discrimination.

Amazon’s Cashier-less Stores May Jeopardize Wawa, Traditional Convenience Stores

Is Amazon a threat to Wawa and its workers? That’s the question a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist sought to answer in a February 27 article examining efforts by the online retailer to grow its cashier-less Amazon Go convenience store concept in places like the City of Brotherly Love.

“First, Amazon came for your bookstore. Then for your electronics store, department store, and supermarket. Now, it seems, the online retailer run by multibillionaire Jeff Bezos may be coming for your Wawa, too,” the columnist wrote.

The column appeared one day after the newspaper reported Amazon has lobbied city officials to exempt the company from pending legislation that would ban cashless stores. Amazon Go stores do not employ cashiers. All transactions are digital. The chain has 10 stores so far, including four in Seattle, four in Chicago, and two in San Francisco. Last year, unidentified sources told the Inquirer that Amazon was considering a plan to open as many as 3,000 Go stores nationwide by 2021.

Based in the community of Wawa, in Western Delaware County, Wawa Inc. operates more than 800 stores and employs 30,000 people in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

“Given what the online retailer has done to shopping malls and small shops alike, gutting over-the-counter jobs for warehouse and delivery jobs, imagine what Amazon Go could do to Wawa, whose stores are a way of life in our neighborhoods,” the newspaper columnist wrote.

CWA Attorney Could Be Next National Labor Relations Board Nominee

A special counsel for the Communications Workers of America may be in line for a nomination to fill the vacant seat on the National Labor Relations Board. Politico reported on February 28 that the AFL-CIO had advised U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York to recommend attorney Jennifer Abruzzo to the NLRB.

“Abruzzo spent two decades at the labor board, rising to deputy general counsel and then acting general counsel before moving last year to the (CWA), where she became special counsel for strategic litigations,” Politico reported in its daily Morning Shift blog.

Three days earlier, Bloomberg reported that Abruzzo and SEIU 32BJ General Counsel David Prouty were “the two potential nominees currently being discussed on and off Capitol Hill.”

Both news organizations further reported that business lobbyists have been urging the White House and Congressional Republicans to delay any nomination until December, when the current term of the sitting board’s lone Democrat, Lauren McFerran, is due to expire. If the open seat remains open, Republicans would maintain a majority even if one of their three members were to recuse himself from any specific board ruling.

The board’s recusal policies were drawn into question in the aftermath of a pivotal 2017 decision that redefined joint-employer rules. That outcome, known as the Hy-Brand decision, was widely viewed as favoring business interests over worker interests. The board was later forced to vacate the decision when its independent inspector general identified a potential conflict of interest involving Republican member William Emanuel, who participated in the case.

‘Nationwide Wave’ of Teachers Strikes Coincides with Funding, Management Questions

Although a recent series of strikes by local teachers’ unions in California and across the nation may suggest that the labor actions are part of a coordinated campaign, they are really the symptoms of widespread recurring problems in how public schools are funded and managed, according to a February 24 report by the Los Angeles Times.

Teachers from Oakland have been on strike for more than a week and were recently joined on the picket lines by their peers from other Bay Area localities, including San Francisco and Berkeley. Teachers in the state capitol of Sacramento, facing possible layoffs and a state takeover of their district, have authorized a strike. In January, Los Angeles teachers settled a week-long strike with a contract that includes caps on class sizes, more full-time school nurses and librarians, a reduction of standardized testing, a cap on charter schools, and pay raises.

“As teachers across California become more vocal about conditions in their financially strapped districts, they are increasingly performing a delicate dance between advocating for sweeping state fixes – including a need for more funding – while also holding local administrators responsible for what they say is mismanagement of the resources they control,” the L.A. Times reported.

In a February 27 column published by the Inquirer, veteran suburban Philadelphia public school teacher David Klein wrote that he and his colleagues have been paying close attention to “the nationwide wave of teachers strikes (that) has now lasted a year.”

“My colleagues and I had negative real income growth for seven straight years before our most recent contract, while simultaneously having more and more new responsibilities beyond lesson planning, teaching, and evaluating,” Klein wrote. “One year we counted 40 new tasks we needed to accomplish: preparing a new textbook, adapting to new technology, learning new school security procedures to drill, and undergoing state-mandated training for workplace safety, child welfare, and administering state tests, among other tasks. Given that these burdens keep growing as incomes don’t keep pace, it’s no surprise that teachers are leaving the profession faster than at any time on record, per government data.”