In a summit hosted by Walgreen Co. at the drug chain's distribution center here, top executives from over a dozen major U.S. companies and government officials kicked off a national public-private sector initiative to further employment of people with disabilities.

Walgreens, people with disabilities, CEO Summit, Greg Wasson, Randy Lewis, Windsor, Connecticut, Tom Harkin, disabled workers, Richard Blumenthal, Pete Sessions, Jack Markell, James Salzano, Clark's North America, UPS, Scott Davis, employment of people with disabilities

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Walgreens spurs effort to employ people with disabilities

June 18th, 2012

WINDSOR, Conn. – In a summit hosted by Walgreen Co. at the drug chain's distribution center here, top executives from over a dozen major U.S. companies and government officials kicked off a national public-private sector initiative to further employment of people with disabilities.

Walgreens said Monday that the event, held earlier this month its the Windsor facility, gave participants a first-hand look at the company's effort to employ people with disabilities. About half of the workforce at the Windsor distribution center has a disability, but all employees work as equals, with the same duties and performance standards.

"Walgreens was pleased to host this summit at our Connecticut facility to show everyone what we've learned: that employing people with disabilities is good for all employees, good for morale, retention and company spirit, good for productivity and ultimately, good for business," Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson said in a statement. "We're proud of our employees, and while each company needs to arrive at what works best for their business, we appreciate the chance to share our experience, the enthusiasm for what we're doing and the opportunity to learn and do even more."

Participants at the CEO Summit — which Walgreens said was the first ever that focused on employment of people with disabilities — included Sens. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Texas), and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D.), who is vice chairman of the National Governors Association. Along with Walgreens, companies at the event included Amerigroup, Ascend Performance Materials, Best Buy, Clarks Cos., Ernst & Young, GE Lighting, IBM, Lowe's Home Improvement, Lundbeck, McLane Co., Merck, OfficeMax, SAP AG, Procter & Gamble, UPS and Walmart.

After the summit, the officials and companies made a commitment to schedule further activities with expanded participation, starting with meetings at the U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Orlando, Fla., in October; summits in Dallas and Washington, D.C.; a website to share information and best practices; and future activities to expand and promote the employment of people with disabilities and address barriers.

"One thing we've learned from the Walgreens experience is that if companies set big goals and put themselves out there, and work with the right partners to help them build a talent pipeline of eager, productive, and loyal workers with disabilities, the results of such efforts are stronger and more productive companies and a loyal productive workforce," stated Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and a lead Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Blumenthal commented, "The Walgreens facility is powerful proof that people with disabilities are valuable assets to our workforce. I appreciate the leadership of these companies on this important issue, and I'm very eager to work with them to employ more people with disabilities in Connecticut and across the nation. All people with disabilities deserve the dignity of work and we should continue to find ways to help make this possible."

Walgreens noted that since 2007 it has been actively recruiting people with disabilities to work in its 21 distribution centers and has since developed the largest private-sector disability inclusion effort in the nation. The results are a company division with 10% of its workforce consisting of people with disabilities in the same jobs, with the same pay being held to the same standards working with the rest of the workforce, and holding every type and level of position at the centers. The company's initiative is led by Randy Lewis, senior vice president of supply chain management.

The drug chain added that its new goal is to fill 20% of its distribution center jobs with people with disabilities, and it's now applying lessons learned at the distribution centers across the company with the recent launch of companywide solution to better enable its retail stores to employ people with disabilities. More than 100 U.S. and global companies have visited Walgreens to learn how to initiate and sustain similar efforts, the company said.

"Like our distribution center in Anderson, S.C., our facility in Connecticut has been 20% more productive than our others, with lower absenteeism, lower turnover and an excellent safety record," Wasson stated. "And importantly, we're seeing a highly engaged workforce. Our guests from other companies that had set up similar programs at their facilities with a similar approach shared that they had the same experience."

Executives praised Walgreens' efforts to improve the employment prospects of disabled workers.

"Walgreens has been a leader in providing people with disabilities access to all the joys of employment that fully abled people experience," commented James Salzano, CEO of Clark's North America. "The summit demonstrates perfectly that access to employment is a universal issue, one that cuts across party lines, geographic boundaries, public and private sectors. I commend Greg Wasson and Randy Lewis for convening this group, and Clarks will continue to work with Walgreens in helping other leaders across all industries join us in transforming their organizations and ultimately improving the lives of individuals."

UPS chairman and CEO Scott Davis stated, "UPS long ago committed itself to the employment of individuals with disabilities, but we also know that people with disabilities as a group still struggle to find employment. We've been very impressed with Walgreens' disability initiative and look to add to the approaches we use at UPS. So I view this public-private initiative as another step forward."