A consortium of nine automotive-related trade groups is calling on the nation's governors to standardize the definition of "essential" businesses and workers in a bid to ensure their members' ability to continue operating in an uncertain economic climate.
The groups — representing companies that make parts and supply services to help maintain the nation's fleet of public and private vehicles — are recommending the states adopt the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's March 28 directive, "Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response," which identifies essential workers and business operations throughout the economy.
The trade groups voiced their concerns in a joint letter to the National Governors Association.
Their primary concern is that different states will adopt different rules of what is considered essential as the nation continues its battle against COVID-19 with millions of people told to stay inside.
DHS indicates automotive repair, maintenance and transportation equipment manufacturing and distribution locations as essential, the trade groups said, but state governments can determine their own guidelines for such a designation. Adopting the DHS guidance would eliminate any potential of conflict between states.
Among the groups signing the letter are the Auto Care Association, Automotive Service Association, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, Specialty Equipment Market Association, Tire Industry Association and the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.
The trade groups said they believe their services are essential and want clarity and agreement among the states to avoid any problems.
"Governors and local authorities have been making difficult decisions balancing 'essential' commercial activities with 'Shelter in Place' and 'Safer at Home' directives. … However, there have been inconsistencies in how such rules apply to the automotive supply chain, which supports critical service and repair needs," the letter states.
Widespread adoption of the DHS guidelines by states "will provide a uniform standard allowing automotive businesses to fully meet each community's needs during this unprecedented time," it continues.
With more than 8,000 members, the vast majority of which have fewer than 100 employees, the issue is critical to SEMA, according to Daniel Ingber, vice president of government and legal affairs for the group.
"It's a lot of small businesses. It's an incredibly important issue," he said. "We want the 50 state governors to adopt the DHS guidelines."
"It's obviously very stressful," Ingber said, as automotive-related businesses around the country try to determine whether they quality to stay open as essential operations. "It's definitely an issue and it's one we would like to have some clarity on."
Determining which businesses should stay open has to not only consider what local and state requirements are now in place, but also what products individual company's make.
"The automotive supply chain is absolutely essential," Ingber said, adding that he believes most people understand that. "Going to a repair show and having your vehicle repaired is an absolute basic. I think people get that. And I do think people get that the supply chain [is part of that need]."
When retailers like Hobby Lobby and GameStop have tried to remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, there certainly is a lot of gray area regarding what exactly is essential.
The other signees are: Automotive Oil Change Association; California Automotive Business Coalition; and Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades.
It was in mid-March that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security laid out what the federal government considers to be essential business activities.
But while issuing the guidelines, the agency called the list "advisory in nature" and is not a directive or standard. The federal government said state, local, tribal and territorial governments have authority in enforcing what is essential.
"The advisory list identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions, among others," reads a memorandum from CISA Director Christopher Krebs.
"It also includes workers who support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure. The industries they support represent, but are not limited to, medical and health care, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works," the memo continues.
The federal government also cautioned that its list is not complete, and individual jurisdictions can "add or subtract" categories as they see fit, the memo states.
"It's an incredibly difficult time for businesses," Ingber said about the impact of the virus. "We are hearing that it's having significant impact. It's certainly causing a lot of pain."