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FMC Commissioners Write Biden for Support Vaccinating Maritime Workers

prioritizing maritime workers for COVID-19 vaccination
(CDC photo)

Published Jan 29, 2021 3:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two commissioners from the Federal Maritime Commission added their voices to the calls to prioritize the nation’s maritime workforce to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Commissioners Carl Bentzel and Daniel Maffei wrote to President Biden recommending his administration emphasize the important role the maritime industry plays in maintaining the nation’s supply chain.

The letter to President Biden follows a similar initiative in December with a letter to the Maritime Administration. Union leaders, port administrators, and local elected officials have also been urging that the frontline nature and responsibilities of the maritime workforce be recognized. Thy cite their importance to maintaining the flow of goods and for the longer-term recovery of the economy.

In their letter, the FMC commissioners highlight an upward trend in the number of cases of COVID-19 reported in the maritime sector. They cite data from the International Longshoremen’s Association reporting 784 positive tests for the virus and 1,855 quarantines since March of 2020. During the same period, they write that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association reported that 1,034 maritime workers contracted COVID-19 in California, Washington, and Oregon.

“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,” the commissioners write to President Biden. In addition to being prioritized for vaccinations, they also ask the President to ensure that the maritime workforce is given access to rapid testing as another tool to help minimize workplace disruption.

The FMC commissioners' call follow similar actions in California where elected officials, port executives, and union leaders cited the impact on the workforce and performance at the Southern California ports. Speaking at the Los Angeles City Council meeting earlier this week, Councilman Joe Buscaino again highlighted that the dockworkers and truckers working the ports are on the frontline and should be prioritized with other essential workers to receive the vaccine. Reports to the state’s health department have set the rate of positive COVID-19 tests at between 65 and 70 percent of the workers who have taken the test in the San Pedro port complex.

On January 26, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a resolution put forth by Buscaino along with Councilmen Paul Koretz and seconded by Councilman Mike Bonin to include the maritime workforce in the prioritization for the COVID-19 vaccine. The resolution goes to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for his approval. However, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom is on the record saying that the priorities for the vaccines would follow federal guidelines and would be given out based on age, not occupation.