"This is business, not charity."
July 18, 2014 4:35 PM   Subscribe

"We haven't found a disability we can't employ."
"Let me tell you a story,” says Randy Lewis, former senior vice-president at US retailer Walgreens, in a Texan drawl. And it’s quite a story. It’s the tale of how a man who led logistics at America’s largest drug-store chain, supporting it as it grew from 1,600 to 8,000 outlets with the most advanced logistics network in its sector, did so while giving job opportunities to thousands of disabled people. In Walgreens’ distribution centres today, an average 35% of the workforce comprises people with disabilities, and it has set targets to make sure one in every 10 in-store hires is also disabled.

In another interview, Lewis discusses how Walgreens changed their hiring process when they realized they were excluding a whole group of people who couldn't get through the internet application or "interview" in the conventional way.

Via David Perry at How Did We Get Into This Mess?.
posted by Lexica (32 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I was pleased to read that these employees "earn the same pay as other staff." (Unlike, say, Goodwill.)
posted by wintersweet at 4:43 PM on July 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

I wish this approach was more general.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:48 PM on July 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

The "another interview" link is really interesting:
Randy Lewis: For someone who has difficulty with numbers and directions, we've named stations as a group of animals in a zoo. So we might say 'You'll be working at rhinoceros in zoo.' We also have a race-cart alley and a hamburger alley. So perhaps you'll be working at the hot dog station in hamburger alley. These are simple things that help some people. Most of our accommodations cost less than $20 and most are paper and pencil.
And I suspect many of them are not just accommodating to some of his employee's needs, but also enriching for all of them. I'm numerate but I think I'd rather work at station zebra in the zoo than at station F-22. Maybe making his industrial workplace accessible has also made it more humane.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:53 PM on July 18, 2014 [37 favorites]

This is really great and I'm surprised I didn't already know about it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:54 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

And now it's off to Switzerland. For the fresh air and taxes.

Which doesn't bother me, but it might put a bit of a chill on the story for some in the blue.

(Frozen Goods are Ice Station Zebra, I hope)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:57 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd rather work at station zebra in the zoo than at station F-22.

Station F-22 would be pretty cool for anyone who's ever daydreamed about flying jet planes.

At Station Zebra I would worry about being attacked by Soviet saboteurs.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:59 PM on July 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

It would be interesting to see if there's a study on what makes deaf forklift drivers so incredibly safe. It's been a long time since I've been in a warehouse, but I'd guess that you probably can't hear much when operating a forklift, and deaf people are more visually aware of their surroundings.

When I worked a project at Social Security a decade or so ago, a number of the staff in the offices I visited had some kind of physical disability. It seemed like a smart move on their part to hire people who would otherwise be on government disability, but I never thought to check if it was official policy.
posted by KGMoney at 5:28 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Walgreens definitely seems to be focused on employee training in general these days. Back in the day, I don't remember anything distinctive about Walgreens vs. other random stores, but now their employees are always noticeably friendly, responsive, and helpful compared with competitors' employees (and especially compared with the literal machines that seem to comprise most of CVS' cashier workforce). Though I die a little inside for the cashier's sake when they bid me off with a scripted "be well".
posted by threeants at 5:30 PM on July 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

The one thing i hate about walgreens, for all their supply chain wizardy and progressive hiring practices... is their stupid credit card terminals.

They're scummy, annoying, waste my time, and slow the lines way down. Last time i was in i swear it had like 10 steps

Would you like to donate money to bla charity? "1/5/10/20/no" which looked EXACTLY like a cash back screen
Rewards card?
Is this price ok?
Would you like cash back? 1/5/10/20/other/no
So are you sure?

And there's like, at least two screens between those i missed.

The screen is also incredibly unresponsive and sits for like 5-8 seconds after each screen press.

It takes a laughably long amount of time, and maybe 1/5 people in the line accidentally hit an amount on the donation screen and then the whole process has to be voided and start over. I actually heard two employees behind the counter discussing how often they had to void out because of that.

Whoever designed this should be shot into the sun. Let the cashier ask if you want cash back, and it should just be swipe>verify amount yes/no>next customer.

You know, like basically every other store that isn't a huge chain that doesn't try and overthink this shit.

I'm honestly fucking shocked they can run such an interesting/efficient back end and fuck this up so badly.
posted by emptythought at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Be well": Whew, I thought I was the only one who had that reaction. Every time I interact with a cashier or pharmacist I always wonder how long it took him/her to get comfortable with saying that (or at least be able to say it with a straight face) to each and every customer. I won't stop shopping at Walgreen's (in fact, TFA makes me even more inclined to do so) -- but it's a piece of flair that I wish they didn't insist on.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's nice to read about something positive for a change.
posted by bleep at 5:56 PM on July 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've always felt a little guilty about shopping at Walgreens vs. a local convenience store, (sometimes i can't find what I need at the local stores) but not so much now.
posted by Hicksu at 6:17 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's surprisingly different from my experiences with Walgreen's, emptythought!

At my preferred local Walgreens, they have a 24 hour drive-thru for the pharmacy (two lanes, one for Rx drop off and one for pick-up), and an "flex pay" option they keep on file for my insurance. Nine times out of ten, I don't even have to pull my credit card out of my purse.
posted by misha at 6:48 PM on July 18, 2014

That's surprisingly different from my experiences with Walgreen's, emptythought!

Agreed, I've been nothing short of impressed by the chain for the past few years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 PM on July 18, 2014

...and especially compared with the literal machines that seem to comprise most of CVS' cashier workforce).
I loathe the CVS near me, though sometimes I have to use it because it's open 24 hours. They refuse to staff the front counter, instead sticking one person near the entrance who serves as a greeter who says "Welcome to CVS" to everyone, and then steers customers to the self-checkout. There is absolutely no one assigned to the checkout counter. If you balk at using it, they condescendingly guide you through the process. Today when I went in, there was no one working at the photo counter; that's also been converted to a self-service operation. have repeatedly complained to CVS corporate, which assures me someone will address my concerns with the manager and of course, nothing happens.
posted by etaoin at 6:58 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

my most likely death scenario is going to CVS, becoming agitated and shouting "HELP HELP I CAN'T FIND WHAT AISLE BLANK LABELS WOULD BE IN", stabbing myself in frustration, and then bleeding out only to have my body discovered half a day later when the 7am guy comes in for his solo shift to clean off the self-checkout machines
posted by threeants at 7:10 PM on July 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

In Florida our grocery chain Publix seems to have made a big point of hiring people with disabilities as well. The article also makes it clear that there were benefits for those without disabilities, and even on their overall corporate culture. Very cool and not something I was aware of.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:40 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the movie theaters my husband and I used to go to back when we lived in Las Vegas hired a pretty severely intellectually disabled woman in a wheelchair as their ticket taker. Given that ticket taker is basically a mindless job that requires staying in one place for hours, I always thought that was a pretty clever hiring decision.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:21 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, maybe I'll have to troop over to Walgreen's next time I have to get toiletries after all. I've been going to CVS for the last couple years because they carry the particular kind of allergy medication I like, which nobody else seems to, but I don't even take allergy medication anymore/right now so I guess there's actually no reason for me not to go to Walgreen's. And that WELCOME TO CVS!!!!1! apparently mandatory-for-every-customer-excuse-me-I-mean-"guest" greeting drives me up a wall anyway. It's like entering a Haunted House at Halloween, to have the greeter pop out from behind a self-checkout machine just to shout in your face, when you're only like three feet inside the doorway. Dunno what Corporate is thinking with that one.

(Also, this is beside the point, but is it just me or is the lighting in chain drug stores uniformly terrible? I would go to a drug store specifically if it had Macy's-style soft/warm lighting, but none of them do. Do they choose the most godawful florescent bulbs (and acoustic tile and indoor/outdoor carpet) just to make everyone look green and terrible when they walk in? I almost wonder if it's a way to sell more vitamins and medication and vanity-soothing toiletries! Making everyone look terrible and giving me a headache, just to drive up the Health and Beauty spending. For shame, drugstores. For shame).
posted by rue72 at 9:35 PM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

is the lighting in chain drug stores uniformly terrible?

Yes! They always feel like sad and unwelcoming places, particularly when they get a bit run-down and shabby.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:50 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do all Walgreens have the huge, omnipresent mirror along the back wall, which I assume is there to catch shoplifters in the aisles? I've seen it at every one I can remember, and it's always given me more of a "Welcome to Walgreens, we've got our eye on you." vibe than cameras would, for some reason that makes zero sense because it's a smarter and friendlier solution than robot eyes when you think about it. I guess just because it's such a big visual, it gets a gut reaction.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:59 PM on July 18, 2014

I die a little inside for the cashier's sake when they bid me off with a scripted "be well."

I guess that any scripted interaction can seem oppressive, but just having a distinctive way of wishing customers well seems like the most benign version of that. It's not even particularly clumsy as those things go.
posted by straight at 10:30 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Though I die a little inside for the cashier's sake when they bid me off with a scripted "be well"

It makes me smile every time because it's this little intrusion from the Demolition Man universe.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:45 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hate to be "that girl", but...

You know, this is all fine and dandy on the surface, but as someone who is disabled I can tell you I have major concerns about how well thought out this is. I have MS, and my last job was for a hospital that refused to give me FMLA because I fell 5 hours short of the minimum required annual hours worked to qualify for it... because I had to take FMLA for my health condition that year. Below that minimum, it is up to the company's discretion if they will provide you with FMLA. The hospital wouldn't budge, so I ended up having to quit and go on disability (they actually wrote me up for disciplinary action and threatened to terminate my benefits because I was out for 4 weeks due to a serious relapse that left me almost completely bedridden), even though I had done everything by the book).

If someone is on disability and stops it to work at Walgreens, and then ends up having a medical crisis, they can't just pop back on disability if Walgreens isn't willing to hold their job for them. Unless it's within the first 6 months to a year after termination of benefits, you have to reapply for disability, which can take years in some cases. Unless Walgreens is not only willing to hire the disabled but also do right by them as far as taking care of their specific employment needs and accommodations, this is not the win-win situation it seems like at first glance. I saw a lot of "look how great this is for our company and all this great PR we are getting" in that article, not a lot of what the company was willing to do to take care of the disabled people they employ.
posted by evilcupcakes at 10:50 PM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

If someone is on disability and stops it to work at Walgreens, and then ends up having a medical crisis, they can't just pop back on disability if Walgreens isn't willing to hold their job for them.

I don't think there was any evidence that Walgreens does this. It sounds like there are problems with the FMLA (and also your last employer).

While Walgreens may do some bad things, it sounds like this area isn't one of them (unlike Goodwill).
posted by el io at 11:12 PM on July 18, 2014

Mod note: Just as a general note, let's try to stick with the topic of the post rather than "here's a completely unrelated thing that bugs me about Walgreens/other retail outlet." Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:22 AM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another way to phrase the headline: "this is business, not discrimination."
posted by Jesse the K at 4:44 AM on July 19, 2014

I wonder if Amazon could do this in their FCs, which sound like very demanding places to work?
posted by Joe Chip at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2014

threeants: "be well"

I despise that crap. Whoever mandated that should die a horrible, slow, very painful death.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:08 PM on July 19, 2014

After some churn, I've settled on Walgreens for my HRT prescriptions. The pharmacists there are incredibly nice to me, which hasn't been the case everywhere. Another trans friend of mine also fills hers at this store and hasn't had the same exceptional experience (just the usual unremarkable one), but she always gets read as cis when we're out while I'm a little more visibly trans. So I kind of wonder if the people at my location are going out of their way to be particularly welcoming to me, which would be neat too.

Thanks for sharing this. I like that the chain I found most comfortable as a customer is also accommodating to others, even if there's still progress to be made.
posted by Corinth at 8:37 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use Walgreens because it's convenient, but this makes me feel better about that. I like that I can go to Walgreens 24/7, not have to get out of my car and interact with people when I'm feeling shitty, and I can also get refills when I'm out of town.

My therapist hates Walgreens though and encourages me to switch to a local chain ever so often (she thinks they have a higher mark-up). I'll mention this to her next time I see her.
posted by donajo at 8:08 PM on July 21, 2014

« Older "I forget to breathe sometimes"   |   Kindle Unlimited Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments