Industry, regulators urge priority COVID-19 vaccines for transport workers
Port officials, trade groups, and maritime regulators are calling for transport-related workers in the US to receive priority for COVID-19 vaccinations in order to avoid further disruption to an already strained supply chain.
Two members of the Federal Maritime Commission, Carl Bentzel and Daniel Maffei, have urged President Joseph Biden and his administration to prioritize vaccines for dockworkers, a plea echoed by the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) in a letter to the National Governors Association.
The entreaties come as waterfront employers in Southern California acknowledge that terminal productivity at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has been crimped by rising infection rates among dockworkers.
“Our society has adapted to dramatic, but necessary, changes in how we work, travel, and go to school,” Bentzel and Maffei wrote in a Jan. 28 letter to President Biden. “What remains unchanged is the essential need for cargo to move through our ports. The sacrifices, resilience, and selflessness of those who work in the maritime industry have kept our supply chain functioning and our economy connected, and will serve as a foundation as we look to recover as a country in 2021. For this to happen, we must provide immediate vaccination to the maritime workforce.”
The commissioners noted the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) has reported 784 positive COVID-19 tests among its members between last March and this week, with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) reporting 1,034 positive cases in California, Washington, and Oregon during the same period, including more than 600 known cases of the coronavirus at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and 12 deaths, since Dec. 1 alone.
The ILWU two weeks ago called on elected officials to give immediate priority for the COVID-19 vaccine to longshore workers, arguing they were essential front-line workers.
“These numbers continue to tr upward and show the risk to our nation’s supply chain,” Bentzel and Maffei wrote. “A large-scale workforce disruption from COVID-19 would be disastrous for the immediate and long-term fluidity of the supply chain and delivery of goods to Americans.”
Supply chains throughout the US have already been hampered by import volumes that spiked to peak season levels following the lifting of initial COVID-19 business lockdowns and have maintained double-digit percentage year-over-year growth rates through the of the year.
“Longshore workers have been working every day through the pandemic to keep cargo moving despite the exposure to a life-threatening virus they face every day,” Frank Ponce De Leon, ILWU coast committeeman, told JOC.com.
Workers key in delivering medical supplies, PPE The AAPA, in a letter dated Jan. 29 and co-signed by nine other transport-related trade groups, including the American Trucking Associations, told the country’s 50 governors that allowing transport workers early access to COVID-19 vaccines can help alleviate concerns about the “potential for supply chain disruptions, delays in vaccine distribution, and further adverse economic impacts …”
“As we saw at the outset of the pandemic, when supply lines are disrupted, consequences are fast to follow,” the groups said. “A recurrence of that ordeal can be avoided – by authorizing access in Phase 1 of COVID-19 vaccinations for essential freight, rail, port and waterway, and energy workers.”
In a Jan. 4 letter to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, part of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Exporters Competitive Maritime Council (ECMC) said the ability of the US to successful confront the pandemic deps in large part on the “resilience and integrity of our transportation networks.”
“The transportation industry plays a critical role in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, and we urge you to please consider the essential nature of the transportation workforce as you implement the ution of plans for vaccine distribution,” the ECMC wrote.
The FMC commissioners, AAPA, and the ECMC noted the key role transportation workers have in delivering critical cargo to combat the pandemic, including medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).