What Can Congress Do to Ease US Printing Industry Supply Chain Burdens?
The supply chain crisis: it’s emerged as one of the biggest pain points for print and packaging this year – and the easing of that pain is predicted to be slow as we slide into Q1 of 2022. Concern has gone beyond manufacturers and the business community to the general public. Consumers, who previously rarely considered in detail just how basic goods, groceries or retail items ended up magically on store shelves or in warehouses, are squawking loudly about supply chain issues.
And while there are certainly external economic and situational factors beyond the scope of Congress that impact supply chain, there are some solid actions that lawmakers can take – and have taken – to help unlock the flow of goods and materials into the US.
To date, policy solutions have fallen into three main buckets: ports, trucking, and labor issues. These include:
- Ports – On December 8, the US House of Representatives passed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, sponsored by Reps. Garamendi (D-CA) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD), by a sizeable bipartisan majority (vote tally: 364-60). The legislation constitutes the first major update of the Act since 1998. The modernization provisions of the Act focus on requiring ocean carriers to adhere to minimum service standards that reflect best practices in the global shipping industry. It also provides more “teeth” for the Federal Maritime Commission, the regulatory agency overseeing the ocean shipping industry, by allowing it to self-initiate investigations and to better apply enforcement measures to stop unreasonable business practices. The Senate must now vote on similar legislation. Both the groundswell of multi-industry support and the bipartisan showing on the House floor vote bode well for the upper chamber’s interest in moving a companion bill swiftly. Ditto on the White House signing such a bill into law.
- Trucking – The ripple effects of a nation-wide truck driver shortage have been felt in the print and packaging industry even prior to 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the problem. The American Trucking Association estimates the shortage this year will be a record high 800,000 drivers. Fortunately, the DRIVE Safe Act was folded into legislation that became the new Infrastructure & Innovation Act. (PRINTING United Alliance had joined multiple trade associations in an effort to advocate passage of the DRIVE Safe Act, and welcomed its inclusion as part the bipartisan infrastructure package.) This policy is aimed specifically at easing driver shortage. It expands the age pool of interstate truck driver eligibility from a minimum of age 21 to down to age 18, while at the same time providing apprenticeship style training and technology advances to balance road safety with increased productivity. In the same way print and packaging is focused on attracting Next Gen labor to manufacturing, so is the surface transportation industry expect the trucking industry to seek additional policy solutions to address the same problem.
- Labor – Increasing the labor pool even further to alleviate current (and prevent future) supply chain headaches is also a goal Congress or the White House can help further. Policy ideas floating on Capitol Hill include targeted financial incentives to recruit additional truck drivers, granting temporary visas to workers willing to fill the employment gap in key sectors, and providing increased regulatory flexibility to make the delivery of good and materials easier. One example would be revising Hours of Service rule limiting truck drivers’ time on the road and/or increasing truck weight limits (both of which the paper industry has publicly championed over the years). Even deployment of the National Guard to help move cargo has been floated as a short-term solution.
On a real-time note, just as the print and packaging industry is watching the legal fate of OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) mandating COVID-19 vaccination of employees in private sector companies with over 100 workers, the shipping and trucking industries are also waiting with anticipation to learn how it will impact the current labor shortage. Industry trade associations have raised the specter that the ETS will actually worsen labor and supply chain problems. Don’t be surprised to see shippers or truckers seek exemptions from the ETS as the January 4th implementation date draws nearer.
Also of note: labor contracts governing approximately 15,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports are set to expire in July 2022. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is in a clear power position as dozens of full container ships wait outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Unsurprisingly, automation is the flashpoint topic of ongoing negotiations. And while the union did agree to a Biden Administration request to modify workweeks to institute 24/7 operations, the union rejected a one-contract extension just last month and observers expect a highly political fight heading into the summer. (History recalls the 2014 labor contract talks, during which ILWU workers staged port slowdowns that were ultimately ended by the Obama Administration stepping in.)
So, what about the much-touted new transportation bill? What can that new law do to help ease supply chain woes? The answer lies primarily in funding. The new law directs approximately $5 billion to enhance supply chain policy, along with billions more for ports and highways. But keep in mind that the title of that law is the Infrastructure & Investment Act for a reason – it’s meant to pay long term dividends, not necessarily quick fixes. The action needed now should be more timely and targeted policy.
And we should definitely expect such action from Congress in 2022. An enlightening November 2021 survey of senior Capitol Hill staff (aka, the people on the policy front lines) released by The Canvass and Locust Street Group indicated that 61 percent of respondents listed “supply chain issues” as the top most likely focus of Congress next year. This policy had the most consensus by far; the next three answers: immigration, environment/climate, and technology regulation recorded answers of 37 percent, 36 percent, and 34 percent respectively. The sharp focus on supply chain by Capitol Hill staff indicates that individual constituents, who are watching and reading media reports of consumer shortages and rolling their inflation fears into the same anxious sentiment, are putting the heat on lawmakers to “do something” to help. Voter interest, plus continued lobbying by diverse sectors like transportation, retail, agriculture, and manufacturing, mean more policy solutions should be forthcoming in 2022.
Lisbeth Lyons is the Vice President, Government & Political Affairs at PRINTING United Alliance, the most comprehensive member-based printing and graphic arts association in the United States. PRINTING United Alliance members have exclusive access to preeminent education; training; workshops; events; research; governmental and legislative representation; safety and environmental sustainability guidance; and resources from the leading media company in the industry – NAPCO Media.
In this article, Lisbeth addresses supply chain policy. More information about delivery & logistics policy can be found at www.sgia.org or reach out to Lisbeth should you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business: email@example.com. Printing and packaging companies can also provide examples of how supply chain kinks are negatively impacting their operations by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Stories may be used to assist PRINTING United Alliance’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.
To become a member of PRINTING United Alliance and learn more about how PRINTING United Alliance subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / email@example.com.
This content originally appeared on the PRINTING United Alliance Legislative Affairs page, which can be found at: https://www.sgia.org/advocacy/legislation. Follow this page for more legislative action from PRINTING United Alliance experts for the printing industry!
Lisbeth Lyons is Vice President, Government & Political Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, the largest, most comprehensive graphic arts trade association in the country. With more than 20 years of experience representing the voice of business on Capitol Hill, Lisbeth advocates for public policies that protect and advance the economic future of the printing and packaging industry. She oversees PRINTING United Alliance’s legislative, political, and grassroots advocacy initiatives, and has served in executive leadership of multiple successful advocacy campaigns, such as Coalition for Paper Options, Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, and Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers Coalition.
Prior to representing PRINTING United Alliance, Lisbeth served in similar roles at Printing Industries of America, US Telecom, and the National Federation of Independent Business. She also spent three years as a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, where she was on the forefront of urban education reform in the mid-1990s.
Lisbeth is Midwestern born and bred, having grown up in the St. Louis metropolitan area and attended college at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before starting her career in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in English/Sociology and a professional graduate certificate from The George Washington University School of Political Management. She lives in the historic Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC.
An avid leader and learner in professional development, Lisbeth was a founding member of the Government Relations Leadership Forum, and is an active participant in organizations such as Council of Manufacturing Associations, Women in Government Relations, and National Association of Business PACs, among others. Lisbeth is often a featured speaker at premier industry conferences; she has spoken to Boards of Directors, corporate executive management teams, and state and regional trade associations across the country from coast to coast.