Omicron variant and inclement weather further damage the supply chain, leading to empty shelves

The recent spread of the omicron variant among supply chain workers, sour weather, and even a recall of salads and bagged vegetables has caused Americans to once again find sterile shelves in supermarkets or retail stores. .

While industry executives are hoping this latest supply chain outage will be a short-term frustration, it comes amid the challenges they faced during the pandemic: shipping delays, congestion at ports. , labor shortages and more.

Doug Baker, vice president of industrial relations for the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group, said the latest variant of Covid-19 and poor winter weather have made things worse for the supply chain. He said he was still hopeful things would normalize again once the country got through the omicron wave.

“Supply chain constraints and storage conditions will continue to have their ebb and flow, but maybe by the second half of 2022 we will start to see some normalization of the supply chain. “, did he declare. “You have to put an asterisk on it because we can get another variant and another peak in the cases, and we’re starting to see some really abnormal weather conditions.”

Rain and tornadoes in the spring followed by an active hurricane season could take a heavy toll on the country’s supply chain, Baker noted, and the industry is still grappling with how best to make itself attractive to the workers.

The number of people who voluntarily left their jobs reached 4.5 million in November, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Monthly Job Opportunities and Turnover Survey reported last week, indicating that Americans are increasingly convinced that they can find better opportunities in the job market.

As these jobs remain vacant and the omicron variant is able to find a place among the widely vaccinated workforce in meat packaging, labor shortages are further exacerbated, said Mark Lauritsen, International Vice President of Meat Packaging at the International Union of United Food and Commercial Workers.

The butchers at Old Fashion Country Butcher process the meat, in Santa Paula, Calif., May 21, 2020.Brent Stirton File / Getty Images

“Because of the absences we have, combined with the labor shortage in this industry, you see the lines are running slower than they used to be,” he said. “[Meatpacking plants] tend to find enough by reorganizing the staff to keep the slaughter side full, but not always enough on the other side of the plant – the processing side.

Jon Samson, executive director of the American Trucking Associations, said the omicron variant has not spread among truckers, but there has been a noticeable slowdown in pickups and drop-offs at warehouses, ports, retailers and stores due to a shortage of workers.

Samson, who testified before Congress in November about the country’s supply chain problems, said his industry was already short by 80,000 drivers before the pandemic – a challenge he has taken on – but now he has struggling to load and unload trucks, and meet the delivery deadlines it is supposed to meet.

Trucks transport sea containers through the Port of Los Angeles during nighttime operations in San Pedro, Calif., October 25, 2021.Mario Tama File / Getty Images

“Fifty percent of the people we are in contact with have had this new variant,” he said. “I think things around the supply chain were improving a bit, but now you get to ports, warehouses, restaurants, grocery stores, and fast food outlets, and omicron has really had an impact on their capacity. to equip themselves properly. ”

Although the meat packaging industry has voluntarily instituted its own vaccine mandates with great success, Samson and other industry leaders have said they fear the administration-imposed vaccine mandate Biden would only compound the work problems because he would not allow them to hire. unvaccinated workers.

The Supreme Court is considering a legal challenge to Biden’s tenure by US trucking associations.

Ed Cinco, purchasing manager at Schwebel’s Baking Co., said his company of about 800 employees in Ohio was struggling with labor shortages during the pandemic. He said that “if the immunization mandate is implemented it will be bad” for its ability to hire and retain its current workforce.

“I have people who work here who are not vaccinated who can retire and will retire if they force it,” he said. “When that happens, it’s going to be really bad.”

While opposition to vaccines and the Biden administration’s immunization mandate may impact store shelves in the future, experts believe the latest shortage of groceries and merchandise will end soon.

Articles are in the works, Baker said, they just need a little longer to overcome the final hurdles of the pandemic. In the meantime, he suggested shopping or calling your favorite grocery stores before visiting them.

“We are all going through this latest unknown together,” he said. “We’re dealing with another peak, and we’ll get through this one – then we’ll move on to whatever lies ahead. “

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