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As mask mandates lift, retail workers again feel vulnerable.

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While they were praised as essential workers, that rarely translated into extra pay on top of their low wages. Grocery employees were not initially given priority for vaccinations in most states, even as health experts cautioned the public to limit time in grocery stores because of the new virus variants. (Texas opened availability to everyone 16 and older on Monday.)

The issue has gained prominence: On Monday, President Biden called on governors and mayors to maintain or reinstate orders to wear masks as the nation grapples with a potential rise in cases.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents nearly 900,000 grocery workers, said this month that at least 34,700 grocery workers around the country had contracted or been exposed to Covid-19 and that at least 155 workers had died.

The recent mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., has only rattled workers further and added to concerns about their own safety.

A Kroger representative said that the chain would “continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the Covid-19 vaccine,” and that it was offering one-time payments of $100 to workers who received the vaccine.

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