Advocacy and Resources Emerge Amidst Coronavirus Uncertainty
With the outbreak of the coronavirus causing upheaval across the business landscape, the package printing and converting industry has been tasked with continuing to produce its essential products, while ensuring employees and customers are safe and cared for. As the impacts of COVID-19 evolve at a rapid clip, all members of the packaging supply chain are in need of resources and guidance to navigate through this challenging time.
In a situation that has produced more questions than answers, printers and converters have been able to lean on a close-knit community of advocates and peers, as industry associations and networks have served as a voice directed at legislators, while providing communication channels for printers to share their experiences.
As directives from the state and federal level began to come down in mid-March that the best way to combat the coronavirus was for people to stay home as much as possible — including working from home — the immediate predicament in manufacturing sectors was how to keep businesses operational while ensuring employee safety.
A caveat of these stay-at-home directives however, has been that businesses deemed to be essential could remain up and running. But according to a post on SGIA’s advocacy web page, this has led to some confusion around what it means exactly for a business to be considered essential. While the post states that there are obvious exemptions such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospitals, the Department of Homeland Security did not specifically list print in its suggested essential business designations. However, the SGIA site explains businesses that support life-sustaining industries can remain operational. Should states issue a Shelter-in-Place or Stay-at-Home order in which supporting businesses are ordered to close, SGIA states it is working with local affiliates of Printing Industries of America to advocate for exemptions.
SGIA has also launched a platform for COVID-19 resources in conjunction with NAPCO Media — a media company owned by SGIA and the parent company of Packaging Impressions — and Printing Industries of the Americas. The resource page can be found here and is updated daily.
“There’s a lot of information being generated by various folks and because we have NAPCO Media, which is the brands of Printing Impressions, Wide-Format Impressions, Packaging Impressions, and In-plant Impressions, which reaches a couple hundred thousand printers every week, what we’ve done is created a clearinghouse for all of this information,” Ford Bowers, CEO of SGIA said in a recent video interview with Printing Impressions.
Another approach industry associations have taken is hosting virtual meetings as a way to share experiences, best practices, and the latest updates. For example, Ben Markens, president of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), says that the association is hosting weekly Virtual Town Hall Meetings for members to connect with each other. The first of those meetings took place last week, and Markens says that since members are largely up and running, much of the conversation centered on employee safety.
Similarly, AICC, an industry association representing independent box making companies, hosted an online forum for members to get the latest updates and ask questions of their own. For more on the online forum, read the in depth recap from Packaging Impressions reporter Patrick Henry.
In addition to companies easing up on their absentee and sick policies, Markens says PPC members are thinking creatively about how they can reduce employee interaction. For example, one company shared that it is instituting a seven and a half hour shift policy (while maintaining pay for eight hours), so that there’s no direct crossover of employees leaving a shift and others clocking in.
Beyond providing opportunities for package printers and converters to communicate directly with one another, industry associations have also taken up the charge of providing outreach to government officials at both the local and federal levels. While it’s an easy decision to deem consumer product goods producers in the food, beverage, medical, and health care spaces to be essential, the average person may not fully comprehend the entire supply chain needed to bring these products to shelves.
For example, it’s not enough that printers and converters are able to remain open. Without suppliers of ink, substrates, and other materials required for packaging production, these products would not be able to reach consumers. Alison Keane, president of the Flexible Packaging Association, explains that in the FPA’s correspondence to the White House, state governors, and other Capitol Hill legislators, it was important to detail the role suppliers play in packaging production.
“I think the administration needed it,” she says. “It was easy to say food and medical supplies were needed, but to think all the way back in the supply chain to resin so you can make the film … it’s not always intuitive when you talk about health and medical supplies.”
For TLMI, which represents a large portion of North American tag and label printers and industry suppliers, maintaining a supportive community among members has been key. In addition to devoting a swath of its website to a variety of useful resources that anyone can access, TLMI has added a COVID-19 section to its online forum open to members. This way, TLMI President Dan Muenzer says, all tag and label manufacturers and suppliers can receive important information they’ll need during this time, while TLMI members can maintain a constant flow of communication.
Additionally, Muenzer says that the association’s human resources partner (Affinity HR) and government affairs partner (PACE LLP), have been imperative in helping keep the association’s members informed.
“We literally modified our webpage — anything we’re seeing in articles we’re posting there,” Muenzer says. “We’re hoping that even non-members are having access to some of our information — we’re all in this together.”