Home  >  News  >  Keeping the Supply Chain Open

Keeping the Supply Chain Open 31.03.20




Keeping the resale supply chain open during the pandemic

Protecting and taking care of employees and patrons

By Steve Rossetti, ALA Director of Government Affairs

Fault lines and supply chain fragility and vulnerability are being exposed, triaged and remedied in the vast and complex supply chain that provides life-sustaining food and other consumer products to the military.…at many locations the only lifeline for our dedicated military.  It’s a supply chain that leaders and officials can’t and shouldn’t take for granted during a horrible pandemic.  Already, many retail services are being curtailed or closed, including many concessionaires for exchanges.  So far, main stores remain open and DoD has declared commissaries as "mission essential" and thereby eligible for extensive support from the military command structure. 

I’ve been reporting on how a breakdown in the weakest link in the supply chain can cripple our ability to sustain the force and efforts by industry and the Government to have a safe, secure and responsive chain.

Your Association is engaged up and down the chain, inside and outside Government, to do our best to ensure all of these moving parts keep moving.

Today, we’ll focus on a key ingredient in the resale supply chain recipe—personal protective equipment and other measures being taken to keep the chain from being contaminated and thereby having to come to a calamitous halt. 

Grocery and consumable products and transportation deemed "essential"

While most of the American public is hunkering down and sheltering-in-place, certain organizations in the Government and industry simply have to have people showing up for work.  Those that are considered "essential" for the Nation to keep functioning are described in the Bible for essential infrastructure guidance that is produced by the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency.  This guidance was updated on March 28 and appears here .  This includes transportation and grocery operations.  Simply put, this allows trucks to travel in "hot zones" or quarantined or locked-down areas. 

That’s only the beginning.  Once these functions are established as critical to the Nation functioning at a basic level, the real work begins.

As resale swims in two oceans, commercial and government, the equation is ultra-complex. 

In order to feed military families, first the products have to get to the distributors from the manufacturers.  ALA has been working with major manufacturers to highlight the uniqueness and light of the military and appeal to them to give priority on scarce food and other consumables to the military.  ALA is working with the Acquisition and Sustainment officials at DoD to keep them apprised of the availability and "allotments" that major manufacturers are making to the resale system and the commercial side in order to determine measures that need to be taken to ensure the flow to the resale agencies.  Within that manufacturing community, major CPG companies are taking extraordinary efforts to keep products flowing to the distribution hubs.  Commissary distribution is mostly operated by commercial companies, most of which provide products to both commercial grocery stores and commissaries.  Exchange distribution is structured differently and is more of a combination of commercial and organic (Government) distribution capability.

Decontamination and personal protective equipment & premium pay

Distribution centers

In both scenarios, de-contamination and protecting the workforce is critical.

The main commissary and exchange distribution houses are taking extraordinary measures to prevent contamination of products, equipment, and workers. 

Ginger Rodgers, the partner of the famous dancer Fred Astaire said she did everything he did but "backwards and in high heels."  These distributors are not only handling twice the volume, they are having to do it while taking extraordinary measures to keep the facilities decontaminated and open.

This includes spraying, wiping down equipment, and social distancing.  An example of the extraordinary efforts being taken by distributors is Coast Pacific Food Distribution’s program that appears here. 

Military retail outlets

For retail outlets in both the commercial and government world, guidance and practices are mixed and evolving. 

A March 25 item by The Brookings Institution "Grocery Workers are keeping Americans alive" here described the necessity and efforts being taken in the commercial world to ensure grocery workers stay on the job, are safe and paid for their sacrifice. 

DeCA is moving to increase worker safety and a description of their latest efforts is here.  Measures include Plexiglas shields for cashiers, wiping down stores, washing hands and veterinarian food inspections.  This in a statement by DeCA: 

"We are always vigilant to ensure our workforce follows the strictest precautionary measures including routine hand washing and other basic sanitation measures to avoid spreading germs. Our stores continue to undergo daily sanitizing, disinfecting and cleaning.  We have cancelled all events in our stores until May, an overabundance of caution is being used for the safety of our patrons, employee, and industry partners. 

It is important for our valued authorized patrons to know that the sources of the product sold in the commissaries go through an extensive assessment process conducted by food safety experts in the Army Veterinary Corps before they are deemed as an approved source. We have military veterinarians and store food safety specialists inspecting food sources, deliveries and products on the shelves to help ensure they’re free of potential contaminants."

OSHA has issued guidance on workplace safety during the pandemic and this guidance is here. 

Commercial employees work side-by-side with Government workers in commissaries and exchanges.  Commercial workers include some 14,000 shelf stockers in commissaries and many manufacturer representatives.  So far, no determination has been made to provide either government workers or commercial workers with personal protective gear including masks and gloves.  ALA is working with the government to determine if and when this protective gear is recommended and, if so, how it would be purchased and deployed.  AFGE, the Government employee union has sent a letter to the DoD on the matter and this is here. 

Because of the difficult conditions that workers are having to endure, premium pay is being offered up and down the supply chain, including in retail outlets with considerable pay bumps.  Strike outbreaks are taking place in both grocery retail outlets and other segments of the supply chain as the pandemic spreads and employee concerns rise.  ALA is consulting with Government and working to examine methods for getting premium pay to commercial workers in the resale supply chain as well as monitoring and examining the need for increased protective measures to include the provision of personal protective equipment. 

Special thanks to Emily Singer of the Singer Group for providing valuable research for this item. 

Keep up to date on resale pandemic developments on Twitter @resalereaction.



American Logistics Association
1101 Vermont Avenue, NW
Suite 1002
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 466-2520
Fax: (240) 823-9181
email: membership@ala-national.org