Commentary: to get America through this pandemic, the supply chain needs to be tested, sequestered and compensated

Supply chain workers who are allowed access to airplanes, cargo ships and locomotive engines have been put through a rigorous battery of security checks. An even more select few who operate the planes, cargo loaders and port gantry cranes, and who perform important fueling and maintenance requirements, must remain healthy to keep medical supplies, food and other essential items moving through our supply chain.

We have already seen COVID-19-related disruptions in air traffic control towers. Ports in Southern California are changing their hours to allow for cleaning and disinfecting between shifts.

Businesses across Europe and America are suffering right now. This week, more than 3 million Americans filed unemployment claims. Hotels and restaurants are among the hardest hit as social distancing has caused their occupancy and business to plummet. For restaurants, state-level “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home” orders have pushed them to close their dining rooms and move to a pickup or delivery model only.

The Senate passed a $2 trillion bill early Thursday morning and the House is taking it up on Friday. This package will not be the last that America needs.

I am calling on congressional leaders and industry thought leaders to work together to provide safe and sequestered accommodations for America’s supply chain workers at airports, seaports and railroads. These people should be housed at no charge, fed at no charge, receive additional pay from the federal government for their service to the country, and have ready and available access to frequent and necessary COVID-19 testing to ensure they are not placing their fellow employees at risk.

To prevent further spread, healthcare workers across the country are choosing to remain at the hospitals and other facilities they are tirelessly working in on the front lines of the battle with those critically ill and infected. If they are going home, they are self-sequestering from their families for the foreseeable future; though they place themselves at risk every moment they are at work, they do not want to do the same to their loved ones.

We need Congress, airlines, ground handlers, ports and railroads to come together to protect these people and ensure they have access to necessary testing.

By enacting a plan such as this, America can:

  • Support hotels by providing guests at a time when business and leisure travel is zero.
  • Support restaurants that have had to let go of bartenders, servers and front-of-the-house staff.
  • Provide additional compensation to people who may now be the sole source of income in a household where a spouse, partner or fellow renters may be out of work.

Perhaps it could be piloted somewhere first. As the president of the International Air Cargo Association of Chicago, I would be willing to lead the charge here in Chicago, starting at O’Hare and Midway, to see if this can be made a reality.

While passenger flights have been slashed to next to nothing, charter operations — especially here in Chicago — have spun up and are off the charts, both from all-cargo operators and passenger airlines offering their aircraft to ferry cargo.

America’s goods must keep moving. America’s supply chain must remain open. Critical infrastructure elements with limited workforce pools must be protected.

Who’s with me?