Who will bag the ice?
Published July 1, 2021
By Tom Campbell
The owner of a popular bait and tackle sport shop was bagging ice in his store one day when a friend came in.
“What is the owner of the store, doing bagging ice,” the friend asked incredulously?
“We’ve got a guy who is supposed to come in before we open, to bag ice for early anglers and hunters,” the owner responded. “But this guy likes to drink. Sometimes a lot. More and more frequently he gets so hung over he either doesn’t show up or is late coming in.”
“Why do you put up with that,” the friend asked? Why don’t you just fire him?”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought about it,” the owner admitted. But then who will bag the ice?”
Indeed. That’s the question more and more employers are asking these days. Finding help has gotten increasingly hard. We heard about a popular seafood restaurant on our coast paying $100 just for potential employees to come in for an interview. Another was paying $30 per hour for line cooks.
I laughed at the CEO of Morgan Stanley, James Gorman, who recently issued an ultimatum to his employees: Be back in the office by September or else. Or else what? Our legislature is convinced workers will flood back to work if they end the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits workers are receiving on top of state benefits. I’m not so sure.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more Americans quit their jobs in April than in any month since they started keeping records. Five out of every 100 employees in hotels, restaurants, bars and retail reportedly quit. And it’s not just low-paying jobs. “More than 700,000 workers in the bureau’s mostly white-collar category of ‘professional and business services’ left their jobs – the highest monthly number ever. Across all sectors and occupations, four in 10 employees now say they’ve considered peacing out of their current place of work,” says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Listen closely. I’m hearing the old 1977 Johnny Paycheck song, “Take this job and shove it. I ain’t workin’ here no more.”
Is this a real worker revolution or just a post-pandemic anomaly? COVID changed things. Many of us lost family members, friends or co-workers to COVID, realize how fragile life is and want more balance in our lives. We got a taste of life without the stresses and pressures, without unreasonable bosses and abusive customers, uncomfortable work environments, daily commutes and childcare costs. Folks loved working in their pajamas, meeting on Zoom and a recent survey revealed 57 percent of workers in Raleigh-Durham want to continue having control over how, when and where their work gets done. They want to work from home. And they’ve got money: from March 2020 to April 2021 Americans put away 18.7 percent of their income into savings, the highest rate for so long a period since World War II. Workers in low, medium and even high pay scales are joining the chorus of those wanting better than pre-COVID conditions. They’re optimistic they can live better.
Workers have decided lawmakers haven’t and won’t raise the minimum wage. But they have figured out that they, not employers, have the bargaining power. They are aware that top execs of publicly held corporations are making 227 times the amount of median employee pay. They watch a stock market charting record high levels and see an economy on track to record a 7 percent GDP gain. Workers want to share in the good times.
What’s going to happen? We will get a clearer picture in 10 weeks when the $300 federal weekly unemployment benefit ends. I don’t claim to be an economist or political scientist, but I can spot trends. Employers are going to put on a full court press for more automation in everything from ordering your burger to accounting. But automation won’t replace the demand for humans. Somebody is still going to have to bag the ice…or at least supervise it.
Wages are already increasing and will continue to rise. The big challenge for business is to find a balance between higher employee costs and increased operating efficiencies in order not to wreck profitability or become uncompetitive.
It is going to be interesting watching the rest of this year play out.