The Signal September 17, 2021

Peak Season 2021: Flying Blind into a Snowstorm

For supply chain executives, the worker vax rate question is a classic visibility problem—we need to know exactly who is and who is not vaccinated so we can plan and ramp capacity in factories and networks.

Kevin O'Marah Avatar
Kevin O'Marah

Politics is set to ruin the holiday season because too many people are still drunk on twisted ideas about “freedom”. It's not just whether we can safely host the grandparents for Christmas dinner – it's about the supply chain's ability to deliver while flying blind into a snowstorm

Where's Rudolph?

For any supply chain executive who wants to avoid surprises (100% of them), the worker vax rate question is a classic visibility problem – we need to know exactly who is and who is not vaccinated so we can plan and ramp capacity in factories, warehouses and delivery networks for “peak” season. I personally know half a dozen C-Level supply chain execs who are trying everything they can think of right now to get people vaxed, or even just to say whether they are vaxed. Too many are tiptoeing through the politics and that's bad.

Big names like Apple, Ford and Walmart are asking nicely, but still not mandating. Understandable from a PR perspective, but maybe it's better to bite the political bullet now so you can move on to modeling your network risks before it's too late. Who is freaked out enough to just do it? Try Tyson Foods

We've studied the data, we've researched it to the nth degree, and we're confident in doing that, and so we mandated that because we thought it would be irresponsible not to do that and irresponsible not to protect our team members in every way that we could," said Tyson President and CEO Donnie King on the company's Q3 earnings call. "Now there could be some short term impacts, but I think they certainly will be offset by long term benefit in doing this, so that's the position that we have taken."

Is this possibly due to PTSD after last year's meat packing plant outbreaks? I think so. And this from a company that's not exactly associated in the public mind with urban, liberal values.

People, Pandemics and Politics

Meanwhile, inventories are piling up as work-in-process (WIP) because supply chains already lack the visibility and confidence to operate anywhere near the reliability levels we've all come to expect. This and partly due to global supply chain shortages, but also because they can't hire enough people into terrible frontline jobs that are even worse in a pandemic. The worker problem is so serious that Amazon just upped its national minimum wage from $15 to $18/hour and companies like double-down on robots who can't get COVID.

Interesting data from a recent AP/NORC poll says that 73% of Black people favor mask mandates at work. For Latinx people its 59%, and White people 42%. Similarly for Vax mandates at work: Black and Latinx people are both 53% in favor vs. White people, 44%. This is despite an understandable reluctance among Black people to trust government mandates. Could this be because they do much of the frontline work and have a good reason to fear the mystery mask-less redneck across the cutting table? 

Also, of course, the WFH crowd overwhelmingly supports vax mandates at work even though they're safe at home. These folks are generally educated, urban, well-to-do and white. In other words, a vocal minority of Americans is holding the whole US supply chain hostage with the threat that any given facility might get shut down by a surprise COVID-outbreak because of their wild-eyed need for "freedom". How different is this from the “freedom” to drive drunk, or go deer hunting in the park? Vax "freedom", and its lesser cousin, Mask "freedom" are about to take us into the cold weather and peak holiday season playing a dangerous game of supply chain roulette.

There may be legit reasons to worry about getting vaccinated, but that doesn't make it okay to court disaster by keeping us all blind to the risk. We don't fly planes without navigational controls; we don't invest money without due diligence; we don't go on road trips without a fuel gauge. Why is it reasonable to expect our supply chain to play Santa without knowing which of his elves are potential capacity killers?

It's time to mandate the vax, or at least know the facts.

Critical Reading

Biden to Require Large Employers Mandate Vaccines

Commentary: Executive Order & OSHA guidance for employers with at least 100 employees open the door further for more consistent and widespread corporate vax mandates. 
#COVID #human #politicsvspurpose

Supply Chain Crisis Will Leave Permanent Scar, UPS Warns

Commentary: New industry estimates suggest it will take until 2025 to resolve the ‘air travel crunch' on long-haul routes. As a result, regionalising manufacturing is moving up the list of long-term solutions to endemic problems.
#logistics #manufacturing #Glocal

Gig Workers With Smartphones Can Help Set Infrastructure Priorities

Commentary: Supply Chain and Infrastructure are two sides of the same coin. Next week, we will shift our lens from people to assets and look at innovative solutions to a $1 trillion problem.
#infrastructure #gigeconomy #innovation