For nearly two decades, Frank Swanson was a cashier at the Walmart in West Plains, Missouri. This past Saturday, however, Frank found himself out of a job after being fired from the Walmart store 20 days shy of his 20th anniversary with the retail giant, according to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Swanson was somewhat of a local legend at the West Plains Walmart. Known for his enthusiasm and jovial nature, Frank enjoyed handing out free hugs to his Walmart customers, using them as a way of thanking them for their business.
The 52-year-old, who suffers from brain damage and partial paralysis on his right side due to a childhood accident, also liked handing out hugs to the elderly as a way to brighten their day. Frank’s brother, Drexel, explained why his brother is the way he is.
“My brother doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. His purpose in life since his accident has always been to make other people feel good about (themselves) and to bring a smile to their face.
“He loves to hug people, especially the older generation. He says they don’t get enough hugs in their life.”
However, Frank’s Walmart bosses didn’t quite take to his behavior. In January, Swanson says that he was told that he could not hug the Walmart patrons without first obtaining their permission, which Frank says he’s been doing ever since. When he was brought into the West Plains Walmart offices this past weekend, Frank was once again told that the hugs were inappropriate and was being let go. Walmart released a statement saying that Frank was not terminated for hugging customers but instead for violating a pricing policy.
“Letting an associate go is never easy. Part of being a cashier is making sure customers are paying for their merchandise before they leave the store; in many instances, this was not happening.”
Walmart has a policy in place in which they will match the price of an item if it’s in a competitor’s ad for a cheaper amount, something that Frank says he always does. However, he does admit that he took one customer at her word when she told him that she had found a jug of tea 50 cents cheaper than Walmart’s listed price at another store. This was the incident that got Frank Swanson fired. Swanson’ sister, Babbi Marsh, a former Walmart supervisor in her own right, says that she understands the policy but the accusations against her brother are ridiculous.
“He never let anyone walk out without paying for their merchandise. What he was told was that he was being let go for excessive price matching.”
While Frank does admit to the one incident, he says that Walmart is making it sound like this was an ongoing issue and that he was just letting customers walk out with merchandise.
“They said I was making the price up out of my head. They made it sound like I was giving groceries away.”
Word of Frank’s firing spread quickly, and a Facebook page, Hugs For Frank, is calling for a protest of the West Plains Walmart this Saturday. At the time of this writing, over 1,500 people have said they would attend. A number of his former Walmart customers have come to his aid as well, including Jenn Harper, who told KSPR-TV that Frank was “a sign of hope.”
“I feel like one of our own has been hurt. He’s a sign of hope, he made your day better. If you were having a bad day at Walmart, he would light up your whole trip.”
Walmart customer Melanie Vincent echoed those sentiments.
“Walmart was blessed to have Frank as an employee, not the other way around. I sure hope another business will leap at the chance to hire Frank so that they can also be blessed. Whoever made this decision at Walmart made a very bad mistake, and I hope Walmart corporate will see that.”
The Making Change at Walmart group also released a statement in support of Frank.
“It may sound like a late April Fool’s joke, but sadly, this is no joke. It appears Walmart fired workers for being decent and kind. So, if you believe in hugs or being nice to customers, don’t apply for a job at Walmart.
“Stories like this are the reason Walmart continues to struggle with falling profits. People want to shop at a store that reflects their values, not one that fires workers who hold those same values.”
Frank Swanson is already moving on from Walmart. He’s already had multiple job interviews since he was let go but seems to be very thankful for all of the support. Frank says that he can’t believe that people are going to protest for him. When asked if he actually supported the protest, which is set to take place at the West Plains Walmart at 9 a.m. local time, he simply gave an honest answer.
“I guess. There will be hot dogs and hamburgers.”
[Image via Hugs For Frank Facebook page]