If you walked into the East Stroudsburg Wal-Mart, you were likely to see Danny Ockenhouse smiling as he welcomed you to the store. Confined to a motorized wheelchair, it didn’t stop him from directing shoppers to product areas or checking receipts of those leaving.
But not anymore. After almost 21 years of employment, Ockenhouse is gone.
The store eliminated his job in what appears to be a chainwide mandate that replaces greeters with hosts who have different responsibilities where the risks for theft, safety and security are higher. Because of Ockenhouse’s limitations, his job opportunities are slimmer than most.
“I just want my job back, and I want to be appreciated," Ockenhouse, 41, said, with tears in his eyes. “The customers appreciate me.”
Wal-Mart offered and placed all the other greeters with jobs in the store, but it wouldn’t give one to Ockenhouse, he said.
“I can do parts of a lot of jobs, but they said I have to be able to lift 50 pounds, put groceries in the back of people’s cars,” Ockenhouse said.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg confirmed the 50-pound requirement. He said that after an analysis of data, the chain decided that in stores having greater theft and security issues, it would replace greeters with customer hosts.
The new position also includes checking receipts and keeping the front of the store tidy.
Lundberg said the stores try to find operations in other areas and have successfully placed greeters who lost their jobs. That includes applying for the customer host job. Although Ockenhouse has done most of those functions, he does them unofficially, Lundberg said.
“Being in a wheelchair doesn’t preclude someone from being a host,” Lundberg said, although that 50-pound requirement would make it nearly impossible for someone like Ockenhouse.
Lundberg said the company is moving displaced greeters in jobs as cashiers, fitting room attendants and shelf stockers. Ockenhouse has impaired vision, something that would preclude the first two. His wheelchair makes a job as a shelf stocker unlikely.
Friends came to his defense in a growing Facebook uprising.
“I have known Danny for the better part of 12 years and have never met a more dedicated, friendly, committed, dependable associate," former store manager Keith Sturges said. "He has even parked his chair and rested overnight in the building as to make sure he makes it to work. This guy lives and breathes for his job and his store.”
His friend Katrina Richards has also known him forever, she said.
“He’s amazing. He’s an avid church goer, does the March of Dimes and he helps out as much he can with his limited ability to get around," Richards said.
She’s seen him around the store lately, instead of at the front of the store, where she said the store has other people checking receipts.
“He’s able to take people around to the areas of the store where they need to be,” Richards said.
Allison Giambrone, another friend of Danny’s, said he’d make fun of her for not being able to get down from the mountain during bad weather even though he could make it to Wal-Mart from his East Stroudsburg home.