WASHINGTON — Grain millers have reached out to President Joe Biden seeking a partner in the mission to alleviate massive US supply chain challenges propelling prices higher amid growing shortages of critical ingredients such as gluten, emulsifiers, and soybean oil, along with packaging.
The North American Millers’ Association, along with other key supply chain stakeholders in the agricultural, foodservice, trucking, warehousing, manufacturing, retail, construction and energy sectors, published an open letter to Mr. Biden on Nov. 3.
Five supply chain solutions outlined in the letter could be implemented immediately to ease labor and transportation shortages, the undersigned said.
“As business leaders and proud Americans, we are firmly committed to this country’s economic recovery,” the letter said. “We are working to usher in a return to normalcy and striving to help all Americans enjoy a better way of life by providing them with access to the essential products and supplies they need.”
The coalition called first for the creation of a young driver pilot program that would allow employers to create a two-stage, safety-focused apprenticeship program in which qualified drivers ages 18 to 20 who satisfy rigorous safety, training, and technology requirements could then operate in interstate commerce. The letter also asked Mr. Biden to shepherd collaboration between industry, state and local partners, and the US Departments of Transportation and Labor to promote supply chain careers generally and commercial truck driving specifically. Highlighting the stability, good benefits and higher-than-average wages long-haul drivers receive “can improve the lives of many unemployed and underemployed Americans by giving them opportunities for advancement while boosting the economy,” the letter said.
“With 49 states and the District of Columbia already allowing drivers under the age of 21 to get their commercial driver’s license and operate intrastate, this pilot program will provide a real opportunity to address current and future driver shortages by promoting a career pathway in trucking and developing a professional, qualified, and highly-trained emerging transportation workforce,” the letter said.
The coalition then addressed the backlog situation at US ports that includes dozens of cargo ships anchoring off Southern California waiting weeks to be unloaded. The White House on Oct. 13 announced that the Port of Los Angeles would operate around the clock in an effort to alleviate bottlenecks. But the immediate effects were muted, some transportation analysts said, considering many of the businesses picking up intermodal containers had no drivers in place for overnight shifts. In its Nov. 3 letter, the coalition encouraged ongoing investigation into inefficiencies at US ports and information sharing to ensure effective use of resources and equipment there.
Next, the letter addressed pandemic policies, specifically vaccine mandates, in light of the isolated nature of long-haul drivers’ work. While making it clear the undersigned groups were committed to vaccines as a tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19, the letter asked Mr. Biden to consider increased flexibility vis-a-vis mandates.
“We are concerned a mandate will cripple an already strained supply chain,” the groups said. “We estimate companies covered by the mandate could lose 37% of drivers at a time when the nation is already short 80,000 truck drivers. We ask for flexibility for transportation and supply chain essential workers, particularly truck drivers who spend most of their time in their trucks and have minimal contact with colleagues and customers.”
Finally, the letter sought extensions to hours-of-service changes implemented last year in the early months of the pandemic, and asked Mr. Biden to consider providing additional flexibilities that may be needed for the timely delivery of essential goods and that make sense from a safety and operational standpoint. In particular, the letter noted the importance of such regulatory flexibility at ports open 24 hours.
Ninety-six associations signed the open letter to Mr. Biden. Included from the agriculture sector were the Agricultural Retailers Association, the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Feed Industry Association, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Sorghum Producers and many others.
Along with NAMA, numerous associations of professionals in the milling, baking and ingredient sectors signed the letter, including the American Bakers Association, the Independent Bakers Association, the American Frozen Food Institute and the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils.