Lesson of the Day: ‘‘‘We Are Forgotten”: Grocery Workers Hope for Higher Pay and Vaccinations’

Lesson of the Day: ‘‘‘We Are Forgotten”: Grocery Workers Hope for Higher Pay and Vaccinations’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “‘We Are Forgotten’: Grocery Workers Hope for Higher Pay and Vaccinations” by Sapna Maheshwari and Michael Corkery

The grocery industry has boomed in the past year as Americans have stayed home and avoided restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. However, this increase in business has not always meant better wages for grocery store workers, who for the most part have been left off vaccine priority lists.

In this lesson, you will consider the hazards of working in a grocery store during the pandemic and learn how different states and companies have tried to protect workers. Then, you will conduct research about working conditions in your community.

What has been your experience with grocery stores since the pandemic began? Does anyone in your family work in a grocery store? How often do you shop? How safe do you feel? What safety measures do you take to mitigate your risk?

Now watch this video released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

What did you learn from the video? What are the risks involved with grocery shopping during the pandemic? Think about the workers at the store where you shop most often. How at risk do you think they are? Why?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. The opening paragraphs of this article describe the current plight of grocery store workers. How would you summarize what they are facing?

2. What has the Brookings Institution found about the revenues of large grocery stores during the first three quarters of 2020? How does that compare with compensation for workers during the pandemic? What do you think of the discrepancy?

3. What has the United Food and Commercial Workers union noticed about coronavirus exposure and infection rates among workers?

4. How does the experience of Bertha Ayala, a grocery store worker in Long Beach, Calif., compare with those of other grocery store workers? What does her story reveal about issues with the current working conditions?

5. How do the earnings of Rodney McMullen, the chief executive of Kroger, compare with those of his workers? How has the company explained its compensation strategy during the pandemic? What does Lisa Harris’s experience say about that strategy?

6. This article explores a number of different compensation strategies by different grocery chains. Which do you think are the best ideas? Why?

7. What do you think of the quote from Marc Jones, the chief executive of an employee-owned company in Oklahoma, that ends the article? Respond using examples from the piece to support your argument.

How do the issues this article raises look in your local community? Choose one of the activities below and report back to your class — or share your results in the comments section of this lesson.

Option 1: Interview

Interview a grocery store worker in your community. If you have a relative, a neighbor or a close friend who works at a grocery store, you can speak with that person. If not, find a safe and appropriate time to do an interview, whether in person or virtually. Remember to ask permission if you plan on recording or sharing the person’s name publicly or with your class.

Develop your own set of questions that are specific to your area, the store and its conditions. Here are a few to get you started:

  • How has your work changed since the pandemic started?

  • What accommodations and safety measures have your grocery store adopted to protect workers?

  • What would make you feel safer while doing your job?

  • What do you wish customers knew about your job right now? What do you wish your managers knew?

Option 2: Photojournalism

The featured article includes four portraits and one photograph of a protest outside a grocery store. What images might tell the story of what’s happening at your local grocery store during the pandemic? Take images that represent how the coronavirus has challenged or changed the store, the workers, the shoppers or any other aspect of the experience.

If you take photographs that include people’s faces or other identifying information (like a name tag), be sure to ask permission of your subjects and tell them how the image will be used.

Once you have captured at least three photographs, write a short artist’s statement that connects the three images and explains why you chose them.

Option 3: Data Collection

What data might shed more light on conditions at your local grocery store right now? For instance, how crowded does it become at peak shopping hours? How many people wear masks as they enter? Think of something you would like to measure that you can investigate from outside the store, then spend time recording observations. What conclusions can you draw from what you observed? Having read this article and watched the video from the C.D.C., is there any advice you might offer your local store as a result?

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