by Kevin Coupe

There was a confluence of stories yesterday that revolved around the same issue…

The Washington Post had another story about how “warehouse jobs were supposed to be the future of the retail industry, offering opportunities for displaced employees and reshaping the American workforce. Amazon, Target, Walmart and other companies pledged to create hundreds of thousands of these positions at competitive wages — and increasingly with perks like free college thrown in — so they could fill the deluge of online orders that began with the coronavirus pandemic and continues unabated.

“But the industry is facing an unexpected problem: Far too few people are willing to take on the often-grueling work, according to industry officials and economic data. It is the latest sign that the job market is being buffeted by unexpected trends that are leading workers to reconsider the types of positions they want — and upending industries across the economy.”

Here may be one of the reasons why:

The Los Angeles Times has a story about the decision by drugstore chain Rite Aid some two decades ago to  build a giant warehouse, almost one million square feet in size, to serve its Southern California stores, and how it chose to do so in “an isolated stretch of the Mojave Desert where the air vibrates with heat in the summer.

“The land was cheap. The freeway was nearby. But during summers, the workers are boiling inside the mostly non-air-conditioned warehouse.

“They say their leg muscles cramp and their hearts race. They sweat through their clothes. Made sluggish by the heat, they struggle to pull products at the pace the company sets, incurring demerits that threaten their jobs.”  According to the story, “Workers say supervisors responded to their complaints with promises to install more fans in the warehouse … But even when they’ve followed through, it’s had little effect as Southland temperatures rise.”

Fans.  Wow.

According to the story, “Rite Aid spokesman Bradley Ducey said the company has been working with its employees and their union to address increased temperatures. He said the company has installed more fans, opened doors in the evening to let in cooler air and allowed workers to take rest breaks and access ‘cooling spots.’ He said Rite Aid shifts its employees’ work hours during the hot summer months to cooler parts of the day — though employees said this effort has been impeded by demands for mandatory overtime.”

There is, the Times writes, only one part of the warehouse that is air conditioned – the room where they keep and sort the chocolate before distributing it to Rite Aid’s stores.

No surprise, then, that on the same day the Washington Post has a story about how the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that roughly 4.3 million people – or close to three percent of the workforce – quit their jobs during August, a phenomenon that the story says “is being driven in part by workers who are less willing to endure inconvenient hours, compensation, or conditions because they know there are ample opportunities elsewhere.”

Now, these are not all the same people.  Not everybody is able to walk away from their jobs – they have families to house and feed and clothe and educate.

But when I read these Eye-Opening stories, I cannot help but think that there seems to be a certain lack of respect for people who are performing necessary work.  We read a lot about supply chain issues these days, but perhaps forget that the people who are performing sometime grueling work in tough conditions are significant links in the supply chain.

What it really reflects, I think, is something we talk about a lot here on MNB – a singular unwillingness on the part of some companies to invest in their people, to respect their dignity, and value their contributions.

For the moment, the balance of power has shifted to labor … but we all know that this won’t be permanent.  The pendulum swings.  I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there counting the days until it once again becomes a buyer’s market for employers.

But that won’t solve the problem.  It may even exacerbate it.

The post Wednesday Eye-Opener: Labor Pains appeared first on MNB.

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