Several high-profile recent events have underscored how badly the pandemic has thrown global commerce off track. Scores of ships are anchored off Los Angeles awaiting access to two ports that, together, handle 40% of America’s shipping cargo. A trucker shortage has prompted gasoline shortages in Britain. A slowdown in electronic chip production has forced car production lines to shut down. New and used-car prices are reaching record highs. And tens of thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers were stranded last weekend because the airline lacked pilots and crew members to operate its aircraft.
In all these instances, humans are the crucial factor determining when the machinery of global commerce gets back to pre-pandemic working order. Many employers are doubling or tripling their pay scales to lure workers back. For once, labor holds the upper hand and is able to dictate the terms, including with Biden’s plan to put the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, on a 24-hour work schedule to reduce the backlog.
But unless a new, more potent coronavirus variant forces another shutdown, this situation probably won’t last long. Employers will find a way to adapt, even if fewer workers means temporarily disappointing customers with waiting lists for goods and services. Workers who are fully vaccinated and prepared to abide by workplace masking precautions are the ones most likely to reap the wage benefits this new economy offers. But the holdouts, especially the vaccine skeptics, may soon find that an unprecedented labor opportunity has passed them by.