The wave of dockworkers testing positive for COVID-19 up and down the U.S. coasts has prompted maritime regulators to seek help directly from the White House.
In a letter sent Thursday to President Joe Biden, Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Commissioners Carl Bentzel and Daniel Maffei asked that in addition to prioritizing dockworkers for vaccines – which they requested from the Trump administration in December – they should be given access, in the interim, to rapid testing to minimize port disruption while they handle record import cargo volume.
“We must provide immediate vaccination to the maritime workforce,” the commissioners stated. “While we recognize that prioritization for vaccination will be determined by the individual states, we believe that the administration should emphasize the need to keep the supply chain transportation workforce in mind as each state deploys rapid COVID-19 testing and implements the vaccination process.”
Bentzel and Maffei informed Biden that the International Longshore and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dockworkers in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii, along with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators, reported 1,034 positive COVID-19 cases among workers in California, Washington and Oregon as of Monday. That number is a significant increase compared to 694 union members the ILWU reported had tested positive as of Jan. 17.
Along the U.S. East and Gulf coasts, the International Longshoremen’s Association reported 784 positive tests with 1,855 quarantines from March 2020 to last Monday, Bentzel and Maffei wrote. “These numbers continue to trend upward and show the risk to our nation’s supply chain,” they warned.
A surge in COVID-19 cases in Southern California could have huge consequences for the container supply chain at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as American Shipper recently reported.
“We don’t see the possibility, at least currently or in the near future, of terminals shutting down or ports fully shutting down,” said Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield. “But we’re certainly very concerned about the issue. We’ve seen some spot shortages of skilled labor at the terminals in recent weeks. That’s an alarm bell. What we’re focused on now is getting vaccines in the arms of these essential dockworkers.”
Bentzel and Maffei underscored to Biden that a major workforce disruption from COVID-19 would be a disaster for both short-term and long-term supply chain and ultimately deliveries to consumers.
“We must address the immediate health challenges facing maritime workers with continued COVID-19 outbreaks and their impact on the increasing maritime workload and unprecedented volume surges.”
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