Walmart is getting rid of greeters; disabled workers worried
By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
Thursday, February 28
As Walmart moves to phase out its familiar blue-vested “greeters” at some 1,000 stores nationwide, disabled workers who fill many of those jobs say they’re being ill-treated by a chain that styles itself as community-minded and inclusive.
Walmart told greeters around the country last week that their positions would be eliminated on April 26 in favor of an expanded, more physically demanding “customer host” role. To qualify, they will need to be able to lift 25-pound (11-kilogram) packages, climb ladders and stand for long periods.
That came as a heavy blow to greeters with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical disabilities. For them, a job at Walmart has provided needed income, served as a source of pride and offered a connection to the community. Now Walmart, America’s largest private employer, is facing a backlash as customers rally around some of the chain’s most visible and beloved employees.
Walmart says it is striving to place greeters in other jobs at the company, but workers with disabilities are worried.
Donny Fagnano, 56, who has worked at Walmart for more than 21 years, said he cried when a manager at the store in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, called him into the office last week and told him his job was going away.
“I like working,” he said. “It’s better than sitting at home.”
Fagnano, who has spina bifida, said he was offered a severance package. He hopes to stay on at Walmart and clean bathrooms instead.
Theresa Sours, an 81-year-old greeter with heart failure, said she desperately needs her Walmart job to help pay for her medicine and mortgage. Sours, of Stuart, Florida, who’s worked for the chain for more than 18 years, said her manager told her they had no other openings suited to her ability.
“I never thought they would do this. I feel like I’m thrown to the wolves,” Sours said. Her sister-in-law, Cecilia Appleby, was even more blunt: “They’ve done her wrong. They’ve done her absolutely wrong. They just don’t like the handicapped.”
Walmart greeters have been around for decades, allowing the retail giant to put a friendly face at the front of its stores. Then, in 2016, Walmart began replacing greeters with hosts, with responsibilities that include not only welcoming customers but helping with returns, checking receipts to deter shoplifters and keeping the front of the store clean. Walmart and other chains have been redefining roles at stores as they compete with Amazon.
The effect of the greeter phase-out on disabled and elderly employees — who have traditionally gravitated toward the role as one they were well-suited to doing — largely escaped public notice until last week, when Walmart launched a second round of cuts.
As word spread, first on social media and then in local and national news outlets, outraged customers began calling Walmart to complain. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions. Facebook groups sprang up with names like “Team Adam” and “Save Lesley.” A second-grade class in California wrote letters to Walmart’s CEO on behalf of Adam Catlin, a disabled greeter in Pennsylvania whose mother had written an impassioned Facebook post about his plight. Walmart said it has offered another job to Catlin.
In Galena, Illinois, hundreds of customers plan to attend an “appreciation parade” for Ashley Powell on her last day of work as a greeter.
“I love it, and I think I’ve touched a lot of people,” said Powell, 34, who has an intellectual disability. She once rescued a 3-year-old boy who’d wandered into the parking lot and led him back to his parents at checkout.
In Vancouver, Washington, John Combs, 42, who has cerebral palsy, was devastated and then angered by his impending job loss. It had taken his family five years to find him a job he could do, and he loved the work, coming up with nicknames for all his co-workers.
“What am I going to do, just sit here on my butt all day in this house? That’s all I’m going to do?” Combs asked his sister and guardian, Rachel Wasser. “I do my job. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Wasser urged the retailer to “give these people a fair shake. … If you want to make your actions match your words, do it. Don’t be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
With the U.S. unemployment rate for disabled people more than twice that for workers without disabilities, Walmart has long been seen as a destination for people like Combs. Advocacy groups worry the company is backsliding.
“It’s the messaging that concerns me,” said Gabrielle Sedor, chief operations officer at ANCOR, a trade group representing service providers. “Given that Walmart is such an international leader in the retail space, I’m concerned this decision might suggest to some people that the bottom line of the company is more important to the company than inclusive communities. We don’t think those two are mutually exclusive.”
The greeter issue has already prompted at least three complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a federal lawsuit in Utah alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the federal law, employers must provide “reasonable” accommodations to workers with disabilities.
Walmart did not disclose how many disabled greeters could lose their jobs. The company said that after it made the change at more than 1,000 stores in 2016, 80 to 85 percent of all affected greeters found other roles at Walmart. It did not reveal how many of them were disabled.
Last week, Walmart told greeters they would have the customary 60 days to land other jobs at the company. Amid the uproar, the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for greeters with disabilities.
“We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing said in a statement. The extra time, he said, will give Walmart a chance to explore how to accommodate such employees.
Walmart said it has already made offers to some greeters, including those with physical disabilities, and expects to continue doing so in the coming weeks.
But some workers say they have been tacitly discouraged from applying for other jobs.
Mitchell Hartzell, 31, a full-time Walmart greeter in Hazel Green, Alabama, said his manager told him “they pretty much didn’t have anything in that store for me to do” after his job winds down in April. He said he persisted, approaching several assistant managers to ask about openings, and found out about a vacant position at self-checkout. But it had already been promised to a greeter who doesn’t use a wheelchair, he said.
“It seems like they don’t want us anymore,” said Hartzell, who has cerebral palsy.
Jay Melton, 40, who has worked as a greeter in Marion, North Carolina, for nearly 17 years, loves church, Tar Heels basketball and Walmart. His sister-in-law, Jamie Melton, said the job is what gets him out of bed.
“He doesn’t have a lot of things he does himself that bring him joy,” she said. Addressing Walmart, Melton added: “When you cut a huge population of people out, and you have written a policy that declares they are no longer capable of doing what they have been doing, that is discrimination.”
New solutions for the old problem of illegal massage parlors
By PHILIP MARCELO
BOSTON (AP) — They’re nestled amid bustling downtowns and tucked into nondescript strip malls across quiet suburbs. Brothels posing as massage parlors and Asian spas have been part of the American landscape for decades, hidden in plain sight.
But the Florida prostitution sting that ensnared New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft last week is a reminder of the human trafficking and abuse taking place behind the darkened windows of many of these storefronts — and how challenging they are to address.
The case also highlights how police and prosecutors are increasingly using a broad range of approaches, including deeper investigations into wider criminal networks, crackdowns on online sites where johns trade detailed sex reviews and enforcement of stricter civil codes on the massage industry, anti-trafficking activists said.
“You’re fighting against a multibillion-dollar industry that’s very, very good at being strategic and keeping their business going,” said Stephanie Clark, executive director at Amirah, a nonprofit that runs a safe house for women escaping sex trafficking in Massachusetts, where illegal massage parlors have proliferated. “They are always 10 steps ahead.”
As many as 9,000 illegal massage parlors currently operate in more than 1,000 cities nationwide, fueling a roughly $3 billion industry, according to the Polaris Project , a nonprofit that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Most of the prostitutes are women from China and South Korea in their mid-30s to late 50s who have entered the country illegally, are deeply in debt and are drawn into sex work through a combination of lies, threats and other forms of coercion, the organization said.
The massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida where Kraft, a 77-year-old Massachusetts billionaire, was videotaped engaging in sex acts is typical of the model.
Tucked into a pedestrian strip mall in an affluent oceanside community, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa employed mostly Chinese immigrant women and was linked to at least nine other storefronts from Palm Beach to Orlando.
Authorities say the women averaged about 1,500 clients a year, were given no days off and were not allowed to leave the site, where many also lived. Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg described it as “modern-day slavery.”
Eleven alleged owners and managers face a range of prostitution-related offenses. At least one, 49-year-old Lan Yun Ma, of Orlando, faces human trafficking charges. Hundreds of male customers, including Kraft, also face minor soliciting prostitution violations .
“We need to get beyond the whack-a-mole strategy of taking out one retail location at a time,” said Bradley Myles, Polaris’ CEO. “We need to see multi-state investigations that take a longer look, follow the money and build these organized crime cases.”
Law enforcement officials in California, which is home to roughly a third of the nation’s illegal massage parlors, as well as jurisdictions in Minnesota, Utah and Washington are also landing similar large cases, Myles said.
In Massachusetts, about half of the more than 50 people charged under the state’s 8-year-old anti-human trafficking law were involved in illegal massage businesses or residential brothels, according to state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
In one recent case, a 38-year-old woman was charged with running a lucrative human trafficking and money laundering operation across six Asian massage parlors in the suburbs north of Boston.
Prosecutors said Xiu J. Chen recruited Asian women from New York and arranged their appointments, transportation and housing, where they typically slept on mattresses on the floor. Chen was sentenced to five years in prison in December.
But in New York, another hub of the illegal massage parlor industry, major busts involving sex traffickers remain frustratingly elusive, despite police rolling out a new human trafficking strategy in 2017 promising to crack down on customers and traffickers rather than sex workers, said Chris Muller of Restore NYC, a nonprofit that works with immigrant sex trafficking survivors.
A silver lining is that authorities are helping connect more women with groups like Restore NYC that can help get them on a path to citizenship and break the grip of traffickers, who oftentimes hold their passports and immigration documents as collateral, he said.
New York police said they investigated 79 illegal massage parlors for nuisance violations in 2018, but didn’t say how many of those storefronts were ultimately shutdown. Police data also shows prostitution arrests declined more than 60 percent from 2016 numbers while arrests of their customers rose nearly 180 percent.
New York is also among the places seeing growing support for decriminalizing and even legalizing sex work , as is the case in parts of Nevada and Europe. But anti-trafficking groups and local officials appear focused, for now, on more attainable legislative goals.
Delaware and North Carolina, for example, recently classified massage parlors as health businesses, making them subject to regular inspections and other sanitation and safety requirements. Lawmakers in Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and a dozen other states are also weighing stricter regulations on the massage industry this year.
In Massachusetts, Healey backs proposed legislation to close a loophole that authorities say has allowed illegal spas to operate as unregulated “bodyworks” operations, despite passage of statewide massage parlor requirements in recent years.
At the city and county level, codes limiting operating hours for massage parlors or banning features like buzzer-controlled front doors and back-door entrances have been used in recent years to shutter hundreds of storefronts in San Francisco, San Jose and other parts of California. But officials acknowledge these local measures often just push the industry into neighboring communities without those requirements.
Federal and state prosecutors, meanwhile, have gone after the johns who post Yelp-style reviews about their massage parlor experiences on online message boards.
In the Seattle-area, for example, authorities shut down a local site called The Review Board and charged dozens of people, including reviewers and massage parlor operators, on prostitution-related offenses in 2016.
Larger massage parlor boards like Rubmaps, however, continue to operate, complain anti-trafficking activists.
The Department of Justice said federal sex trafficking legislation enacted last year empowers states to go after problematic sites. It also highlighted recent cases in which federal prosecutors shut down prostitution-related websites and brought charges against their owners, including last year’s takedown of the notorious escort listing website Backpage.com.
For former massage parlor sex worker Jasmine Grace Marino, the solution is simple: End the demand for paid sex.
The 38-year-old New Hampshire resident says she was pressured to work at sites in Connecticut and Maine in her 20s by her then-boyfriend, who eventually became her pimp. She walked away after five years, wrote a book about her experience and also runs Bags of Hope, a Boston-based ministry that helps women who have been trafficked or are dealing with addiction or homelessness.
“Men need to have these conversations,” Marino said. “Look at Robert Kraft. Even being billionaire and winning all those championships, he’s still not satisfied and has to fill that need illegally. Something is broken in there for these men.”
Follow Philip Marcelo at www.twitter.com/philmarcelo
A Danish word the world needs to combat stress: Pyt
February 27, 2019
Instead of overreacting to minor slights, it’s healthier to just say, ‘pyt.’
Author: Marie Helweg-Larsen, Professor of Psychology, the Glenn E. & Mary Line Todd Chair in the Social Sciences, Dickinson College
Disclosure statement: Marie Helweg-Larsen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Danes are some of the happiest people in the world, and they also happen to have a lot of cool words for ways to be happy.
You may have heard about “hygge,” which has been the subject of countless books, articles and commercials. Often mistranslated to mean “cozy,” it really describes the process of creating intimacy.
But another word “pyt” – which sort of sounds like “pid” – was recently voted the most popular word by Danes, beating out “dvæle” (to linger) and “krænkelsesparat” (ready to take offense).
Pyt doesn’t have an exact English translation. It’s more a cultural concept about cultivating healthy thoughts to deal with stress. As a native Dane and a psychologist, I think the concepts that underpin the word are applicable to people everywhere.
A way to move on
Pyt is usually expressed as an interjection in reaction to a daily hassle, frustration or mistake. It most closely translates to the English sayings, “Don’t worry about it,” “stuff happens” or “oh, well.”
You might shatter a glass in the kitchen, shrug and say, “pyt.” You might see a parking ticket lodged under your windshield wiper and, just as you become hot with anger, shake your head and murmur, “pyt.”
At its core, it’s about accepting and resetting. It’s used as a reminder to step back and refocus rather than overreact. Instead of assigning blame, it’s a way to to let go and move on.
You might say “pyt” in response to something you did – “pyt, that was a dumb thing to say” – or to support another person – “pyt with that, don’t fret about your coworker’s insensitivity.”
Pyt can reduce stress because it is a sincere attempt to encourage yourself and others to not get bogged down by minor daily frustrations. One Danish business leader has suggested that knowing when to say “pyt” at work can lead to more job satisfaction.
Overcoming the tendency to blame
There’s a rich strain of psychological research devoted to understanding how we interpret and react to other people’s actions.
Study after study show that we are happier and live longer when we have fewer daily hassles. And in some cases, what constitutes a hassle might be tied to how we interpret what’s happening around us.
Pyt can help people avoid the tendency to blame others. Say you’re late to an appointment and there’s a person in front of you who’s driving slowly. It can feel irrationally personal.
But research shows that we get angrier when we explain someone’s behavior by pointing to their incompetence, intentionality or poor character.
By saying “pyt,” you’re deciding that it’s not worth letting someone else’s actions, which are out of your control, bother you; it’s “water off a duck’s back.” You can also use other strategies, such as thinking about situational constraints – maybe the driver was ill – or considering whether this will be an issue in two hours, two days or two weeks.
Of course, you wouldn’t say “pyt” in response to being seriously wronged. And the word shouldn’t be used when you ought to take responsibility. Nor should it be used as an excuse for inaction.
Danes who teach positive psychology have also written about how applying pyt to too many aspects of your life isn’t healthy, especially if they concern your core needs or values.
Hitting the pyt button
Letting go can also be facilitated by doing things like walking in nature, doing yoga or mediation, exercising, keeping a journal or engaging in creative work.
Or you can always get a pyt button. Danish teachers use pyt buttons to teach their students how to let go. Teachers find that it can help children cope with smaller frustrations – “I lost the game” or “I can’t find my favorite pencil” – and it helps to teach them that everything can’t be perfect.
These are important skills to learn. Research shows that perfectionism is related to worry and depression. Meanwhile, self-compassion and social support can help prevent perfectionism from leading to these negative outcomes.
In recent years, the pyt button has become popular among Danish adults, who can either make one at home or buy one that, when pressed, says, “pyt pyt pyt” and “breathe deeply, it will all be okay” in Danish.
And in this case, there might be an English equivalent: the reset button.
Why ‘money’ gospel followers aren’t simply credulous dupes
February 21, 2019
Author: Ilana van Wyk, Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University
Disclosure statement: Ilana van Wyk does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Stellenbosch University provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA.
Not many knew Prophet Shepherd Bushiri until three people died in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria.
The prosperity gospel is back in the news in South Africa, this time over the misdeeds of one of its prophets. The prosperity gospel is a religious movement that has exploded in popularity and prominence in South Africa over the last two decades but has stirred up controversy globally for more than 40 years.
The gospel first reached South Africa in the late 1970s through churches such as televangelist Ray McCauley’s Rhema Bible Church. Due to apartheid restrictions on the movements of black people, the prosperity gospel’s reach was limited. But since the start of democracy in 1994, preachers from across the continent have streamed into the country’s townships, converting large numbers to this new gospel.
Today it’s the fastest growing religious movement in South Africa. While precise statistics are lacking, scholars agree that prosperity gospel followers rival, if not exceed, the numbers of so-called mainline churches.
Not many South Africans had paid much attention to Prophet Shepherd Bushiri until the end of last year. But when three people died in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria, the “self-proclaimed prophet” received wide media coverage.
In February 2019, he was again in the news when the police’s special crime investigative unit arrested him and his wife on suspicion of fraud, money laundering and for exchange control irregularities amounting to over US$ 1 million. His R20-million private Gulfstream jet was also attached.
Bushiri’s followers also attracted media attention when they gathered in great numbers waving placards outside court to pray for his release. Many prostrated themselves on the tarmac, tears streaming down their faces as they spoke in tongues or as they cried for their “daddy”, “Papa” or “Major One”.
Paseka Motsoeneng, better known as Prophet Mboro, who is a preacher from a similar church, lent emotional and spiritual support to Bushiri’s “children”, traumatised by the loss of their “spiritual mother and father”.
These scenes led many South Africans to ask questions about Bushiri’s supporters. Were they part of a cult? Or were they merely instruments in the hands of a man who manipulated their vulnerability for his own financial ends?
Christian commentators called for urgent government intervention to protect poor people duped by the improbable promises made by what they termed as “scam” churches and “fake prophets”.
As an anthropologist, I have been studying prosperity gospel churches in South Africa for nearly a decade. I have attended hundreds of daily services, watched scores of televised ones, analysed websites and chat forums and interviewed hundreds of prosperity gospel believers. And unlike theologians who argue about the legitimacy of Biblical interpretations and questions of doctrine, I have been interested in the kinds of people who swear undying support for men like Bushiri.
Tenets of the prosperity gospel
The prosperity gospel explains poverty and illness in terms of sins against God, specifically the withholding of tithes. It also ascribes such “bad luck” to the work of demons engaged in a spiritual war against God’s kingdom. Converts typically renounce their past lives and their old churches.
They embrace spiritual “technologies” – these include offerings in church, paying tithes, praying strongly and exorcising demons – that promise to secure miraculous health and wealth directly from God. They also follow preacher-prophets who they believe have special powers to fight against the “spirit of poverty”.
Many believers are strengthened in this faith through the persistent testimonies of those who had been “blessed” with jobs, houses, cars and healing in church. These testimonies are delivered from church pulpits and in person, and are endlessly repeated in church publications and on radio, television and the internet.
What I found
My research showed that prosperity gospel churches attract people from all walks of life and a variety of educational backgrounds. While the majority of congregants, like the majority of South Africans, are typically poor and dependent on social grants, these churches also count significant numbers of professionals, business people and increasingly, politicians, in their ranks.
I also found that Prosperity gospel believers are not captive victims of so-called cult leaders. In fact, they move constantly between churches as they search for more efficacious “technologies” and “stronger prophets”. Chances are that as Bushiri faces more legal troubles, more of his followers will desert him for prophets like Mboro.
I often struggle to convince people that those who subscribe to this gospel are not simply credulous dupes. Detractors often refer to the figure of the improbably rich prophet, men like Bushiri, as proof that the prosperity gospel is illegitimate and that its believers are fools.
God and money
There’s a long Western Christian belief that money is a force that corrupts proper spiritual intentions and corrodes sacred social bonds. Stemming from the 16th century Reformation, this tradition has been very suspicious of any coupling of God and money, holding that the material world poses dangerous distractions from proper spiritual belief.
But there are other Christian traditions such as the prosperity gospel that are much more materialist in their concerns. In these traditions, money does very different kinds of work. It is the proper medium through which their God “blesses” people, through which people petition God and through which believers come into social being and connect to others through their generosity.
Some of these traditions have a long history in South Africa, going back to the 1800s. The mission record for instance shows that scores of early converts- and missionaries- demanded material proof of their new God’s power. Various Revivalists used Christianity to inform more aggressive forms of millenarianism such as the “gospel of self-help” during the 1940s and the tent campaigns of the 1960s. The prosperity gospel is a continuation of this materialist Christian tradition. For its followers, it is not a con, just a different approach to their God.