One bright spot for workers in the pandemic is that salaries are starting to rise, and that’s a trend some say may be a sign of a power shift between workers and employers.
While many people lost jobs or found themselves underemployed these past 18 months, workers are now seeing greater choice when it comes to where they want to work and how, and also when it comes to pay, Burns says.
“The prospect of going back to some of the jobs [for workers] is just awful,” Burns told the Standard. “I think we’ve reached the low point in the treatment of labor and it’s going to start improving.”
Federal assistance, including increases in unemployment benefits, has allowed workers time to reassess their futures and consider going elsewhere instead of returning to their former employers.
“All the minutia figures show that new hires have been getting higher starting salaries then people with the same experience who’ve already been there,” Burns said. “That’s going to put a lot of pressure on employers.”
He concedes there is still an imbalance.
“For instance, the number of people unemployed is between 9 million and 10 million. The number of unfilled jobs is between 9 million and 10 million. So we’ve just got a lot of discordant forces at work.”
But Burns says the bigger factor in this market is that the supply of labor is going to start to diminish and we have an abundant supply of money, translating into salaries increasing.
Burns says this start of the reversal really began with the 1968 Carterfone decision, which signaled the end of the monopolistic control of AT&T on telecommunications and all the related technology.
“It opened the door to massive technological change,” Burns said.
A few years later, Intel introduced the first random access memory chip and that started a series of technological advancement that was followed by the move to the personal computer – something that today is allowing workers greater freedom to work from home during a pandemic.
But will all this automation threaten the existence of human labor? Burns is not convinced it will.
“Automation is certainly a big deal, but I don’t know exactly where to put it,” he said. “In the ’60s, people were talking about a guaranteed annual income because the dis-employment of people would be so great. But it didn’t happen. And I’m not sure that will.”