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Mike Rose: Grocery Clerks Risking Their Lives on the Job

By Joanie Harmon
Professor of Education, Mike Rose

Mike Rose, UCLA research professor, has published a blog post on the national plight of retail workers in the age of COVID-19. In it, he highlights the risks involved as grocery clerks remain at their jobs, which are considered essential.

“Depending on the store, the clerks have as protection gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, marked boundaries, and, as I write this, the promise in one grocery chain of a plexiglass barrier,” states Professor Rose. “But in most cases, these protections are inadequate. Still the clerks are at their stations. And, it seems, the nation sees them. And acknowledges the risk they take. And thanks them.”

Rose also notes that these workers have a newfound pride in their jobs, and that the public now recognizes their intrinsic worth as supermarkets remain one of the few services currently left open to the public during the pandemic and shelter-in-place period nationwide.

“In terms of occupational rankings, grocery clerk is relatively low in status,” Rose writes. “One woman in a long radio interview stated flatly that she’s aware being a grocery clerk is considered a ‘low-status job,’ so walking to work she never wore her apron but carried it folded over her arm, in a manner, I assume, that hid the company logo from view. Now, she says, she puts the apron on when she leaves her house. She appreciates the gratitude she receives for the work she does.” 

Professor Rose (’70, M.A., English; ’81, Ph.D., Educational Psychology) is the author of “The Mind at Work,” which shares his observation of “blue-collar” professionals whose manual labors are essential to everyday life, the deep cognitive skills that are employed in these professions, and the value of vocational education.

Rose is a member of the National Academy of Education and a recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English’s David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English; the American Educational Research Association’s Distinguished Lectureship; the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; the Grawemeyer Award in Education; and the Commonwealth Club of California Award for Literary Excellence in Nonfiction.

To read, “Risk and Everyday Heroes,” visit Professor Rose’s blog.