March 31, 2020

Logistics leaders call for consideration in fight against COVID-19

In a letter on March 19, four signatories (ATA President Chris Spear, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, UPS CEO David Abney and USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan) wrote to President Trump to ask that the federal government’s response to COVID-19 be carefully considered to ensure that logistics businesses would not be hindered in their task of delivering essential goods.

The letter focuses on some key concerns, including a desire that “precautionary actions taken by federal, state or municipal governments do not impose unnecessary burdens or logistical complications on package and mail delivery services, or on the people that provide those services, including our pilots, couriers, hub operators and truck drivers”.

The leaders also asked that any new regulation be dealt with nationally, rather than risk the creation of a “regulatory patchwork that hinders operational efficiency”.

Separately, Spear also wrote to the White House requesting specific measures such as allowing rest-stops to remain open to provide relief for truck drivers, and providing alternative ways to access the critical services usually provided by DMV facilities, which are now largely shuttered.

We rely on logistics, and logistics relies on a lot

These communications illustrate the massively interconnected nature of logistics, an operation most consumers take for granted but which relies on infrastructure, from DMVs to truck stops to depots, and clear national and local regulations. In the rush to respond to the crisis, the federal government will need to be sure that it doesn’t hamstring the logistics companies who are delivering crucial goods.

The news that a wide array of logistics personnel have been marked as “essential critical infrastructure workers” suggests that this is understood by the administration. The list, published by director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, includes truck drivers, warehouse workers, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers.

What are carriers doing to respond?

Carriers across the nation are changing their policies and working methods to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both UPS and FedEx have changed their handover procedures where packages require signatures, with FedEx suspending signature requirements entirely in most cases. UPS has also detailed changes to routines like daily meetings, and start times, which are now staggered to help reduce crowding. Employee workstations are also further apart to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Perhaps the most drastic action was Amazon’s suspension of non-essential items from its Fulfilled by Amazon program – effectively kicking sellers who don’t meet the criteria for essential items off the fulfilment service. The Seattle giant also plans to hire 100,000 part time workers to bulk up its logistics capacity.

Amazon customers purchasing groceries via any of its grocery ecommerce arms (Prime Now, Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods) can now choose to have an unattended delivery and pick items up from a specified drop-off location. This option is designed to reduce personal contact – but won’t apply to orders containing alcohol.

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