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The Supreme Court just kicked COVID vaccine problem back to you

Cities around the world hang on the latest news reports. Is the omicron strain peaking and now subsiding in New York City? But then it rises in Tokyo. Is China breaking free of the virus? But then China halts sales of tickets to the Beijing Winter Olympics. Are we managing to free up factory production of microchips? But then a spike in new cases brings factory production back down.

And let’s be sympathetic. Correctly addressing COVID-19 is bedeviled by a surreal problem that is not merely industrywide, it’s economy-wide: a bizarre shortage of workers.

From auto parts assembly lines to retail sales floors to McDonald’s restaurants to airline flight crews, there simply are not enough human beings to work the machinery. Business operators have to deserve some sympathy as they tirelessly try to get workers back on the job. Anything that discourages an employee from reporting to work — a demand to wear a mask, a mandate for an inoculation, a weekly COVID-19 screening — anything that might spook workers into running back into hiding, you have to consider that no manager wants to do that.

I’ll be honest right here and admit that I have no earthly idea what the correct next step is. I’m not a CEO. I don’t run a division or a subsidiary or a factory or a group of auto dealerships. I’m not the head of a weary human resources department. I’m not a union local chairman who’s being tugged in conflicting directions. I’m not a CFO, staring down my company’s legacy real estate overhead while employees stay home working at their dining room tables.

The real leaders of the auto industry must now step forward and show us the right way forward, to say, “This is how we must act” — whatever that involves.

And whatever the path is, it won’t be easy. Our society has become more fractious and argumentative and lawsuit trigger-happy in recent years. Wisdom doesn’t always carry the day. New ideas can be waved away merely by the loudest voices in the room.

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