Material Suppliers Fight for Their Rights

March 23rd, 2020 by Drew Vass

In his call to the nation for help slowing the spread of COVID-19, President Trump implored those working in critical infrastructure industries, such as healthcare and food supply, to maintain normal work hours. Urging a “special responsibility” to Americans and leaning on the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) developed an initial list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.” The list does not include door and window manufacturers, but it does include some of the industries that supply them with raw materials, as well as some dealers. Lumber and building material dealers landed a spot on the list, partly by leaning on their roles as distributors of vital cleaning and disinfection products, said officials for the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA). Others are leaning on issues like national security.

NLBMDA issued a statement regarding a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to include workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products. Association officials said they sent a letter to both the President and Congressional leadership urging that the lumber and building material dealer industry be designated as essential.

“This is a big win for our industry,” said Jonathan Paine, NLBMDA president and CEO. “NLBMDA has been working over the past week to educate federal policymakers about why the LBM industry is essential to both the economy and the COVID-19 response.” The association urged the necessity for its dealers, labeling them as critical to addressing the pandemic, “through supporting the residential and commercial construction sectors, selling vital cleaning and disinfection products, and supplying well-paying jobs,” Paine said.

As state and local communities consider restrictions, CISA constructed its list of essential workers and industries to assist in prioritizing activities related to continuity of critical operations. The list also serves as a guide for state and local officials regarding the closure of certain nonessential businesses.

In addition to NLBMDA, numerous industry organizations representing makers of raw materials are actively urging officials to consider the ramifications of their industries and products as well. Representatives of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) industry point to safety equipment and medical supplies, but make no distinction between the chemicals and raw materials used in those products versus what’s used in building products. Officials for the Aluminum Association cite building materials among those critical to a public health crisis, including aluminum window frames, though a related memo fails to argue why that’s believed to be the case.

Polyvinylchloride

In a statement dated March 19, officials for the Vinyl Institute urged CISA to “continue designating” the polyvinylchloride (PVC) industry and its employees as Tier 1 Essential, suggesting that such a move would help to protect the health of American citizens. Among those suggested were employees who operate chemical facilities and industrial machinery mechanics. While no distinctions were made between various uses and types of PVC in the organization’s plea, the material, “has been specified by the World Health Organization for use in personal protective equipment to be used by health care workers, including oxygen and endotracheal tubes, aprons, goggles, and others,” the Institute said. For this reason, “the Vinyl Institute (VI) finds it imperative to request CISA continue to recognize the entire PVC industry – including manufacturers of vinyl, vinyl chloride monomer, and vinyl additives and modifiers – and our workforce as critical.”

Aluminum

Friday, officials for the Aluminum Association released a memo outlining steps policymakers could take to ensure their industry is “part of the solution to help keep the nation moving forward and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.” Aluminum, they said, “is designated as a critical mineral and has been recognized by the Departments of Commerce and Defense as ‘vital’ to national security.”

In its examples, medical supplies were first to make the list; second was building materials.

“Local, state and federal governments must ensure that aluminum industry operations and employees are designated as ‘essential’ and exempted from any ‘shelter in place’ orders during the current COVID-19 pandemic,” officials for the association urged.

Among the list of products cited as essential, the Aluminum Association cited “window frames,” calling on the federal government to provide assistance through such things as increased liquidity and credit insurances, grants for capital projects and trade policies to protect suppliers from short-term impacts. For the long-term, producers should be supported with government spending and loans, including through infrastructure and defense, as well as tax incentives, they suggested.

“The aluminum extrusion industry stands ready to assist in this time of emergency that our country faces,” said AEC president Jeff Henderson. “The members of the AEC are hard-working, resilient and compassionate. They want to be part of the solution and not be relegated to the sidelines in this most critical time in our country.”

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