Textile Manufacturers in Puerto Rico Allowed to Reopen
Production must be for Personal Protective Equipment, DoD contracts
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Economic Development & Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Manuel Laboy issued Wednesday a circular letter allowing textile and apparel manufacturers on the island to reopen for the exclusive production of personal protective equipment—such as face and surgical masks, lab caps and gloves—for use in the fight against the Covid-19 epidemic.
DDEC’s Circular Letter 2020-03, which also permits textile manufacturers with U.S. Department of Defense contracts to restart operations, states that it is “imperative that government entities operating in the health and safety sectors, as well as medical-hospital entities, have priority” in the acquisition of such locally made apparel-based personal protection gear.
Before reopening, textile and apparel manufacturing facilities must be inspected by officials of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PROSHA) to certify that their contingency plans comply with the “protocols established in the event of the spread of Covid-19,” according to the circular letter.
“Given the exponential increase of the Covid-19 spread in different parts of the world, the supplies of certain essential equipment in the health and safety sectors have been affected,” Laboy states in the circular letter. “Our Textile Industry has the capacity to produce several of those articles that are so necessary for our health workers, as well as for those who work daily to ensure the safety of the citizens of the United States of America.”
Laboy’s Wednesday-issued circular letter amends Circular Letter 2020-02 the DDEC secretary issued on March 17, which specifically included all local textile and apparel manufacturers in Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s March 15 curfew/lockdown executive order closing non-essential businesses on the island. Food, pharmaceutical and medical devices manufacturing facilities were allowed to continue operating during the curfew/lockdown, which the governor announced will be extended to April 12.
In a statement issued Thursday, Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA) President Carlos M. Rodríguez — who together with local textile manufacturers lobbied for their reopening – said he was “very satisfied” that the authorization will allow the island’s textile sector to be “part of the solution to the shortage of protection articles so necessary for our health care workers as well as for the persons who work every day to look after the safety of our citizens.”
“The circular letter published [on Wednesday] is a great achievement for our textile industry, which has taken years to recover the position it once had on the island,” Rodríguez said, noting the change was achieved after several letters to the governor and meetings with her staff. “We hope this initiative shows the commitment our industry has to reinvent itself to support the recovery from this global crisis [and] stop the exponential contagion of this pandemic.”
Rodríguez had told Caribbean Business on Tuesday that the original order to close the textile operations responded to Gov. Vázquez administration concerns that workers in these operations are grouped too closely together in one place to avoid Covid-19 contagion. He said PRMA had worked with these manufacturers to communicate to the government the contagion-prevention measures “so that the government feels comfortable in allowing them to reopen.”
The PRMA chief said that there are 12 textile and apparel operations on the island that employ about 8,000 people, with almost the totality of them being sustained by U.S. Department of Defense contracts for uniforms.
Rodríguez said on Thursday that textile operations provide “critical manufacturing” in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a memorandum dated March 20, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment Ellen M. Lord includes employees in manufacturers of medical supplies as part of “essential critical infrastructure workers during the Covid-19 response emergency” and who are expected to “maintain their normal work schedules.”
The text of the Wednesday-issued Circular Letter 2020-02 reads as follows:
ON CLARIFICATION RELATED TO THE CLOSURE OF THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY AND MANDATORY CONDITIONS TO MAKE PRODUCTION OF PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AIMED AT ASSISTING IN THE PREVENTION OF THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 VIABLE
On March 15, 2020, the Governor of Puerto Rico issued Administrative Bulletin No. OE-2020-023, establishing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico (the “Executive Order”), including, among other measures, the implementation of a curfew applicable to all citizens, starting at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, 2020, which will be in force until March 30, 2020, in accordance with the rules established in said Executive Order.
Additionally, all government operations were ordered to cease, except for those related to essential services. All businesses in Puerto Rico were also ordered to shutdown operations at 6:00 p.m. on March 15, 2020 until March 30, 2020, with exception of those dedicated to retail food sale by means of drive-thru, carry-out or delivery, including prepared or wholesale food, pharmaceutical drugs or medical equipment, pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations, banking or financial institutions, elderly care centers, or those related to the distribution chains of food, medicine, medical items or fuel.
On March 17, 2020, we issued Circular Letter 2020-02 detailing the activities authorized to operate, and a written communication stating that every Textile Industry contractor, supplier or not to the United States Department of Defense (DoD), had to cease operations as established by the Executive Order, without exception.
Given the exponential increase of the COVID-19 spread in different parts of the world, the supplies of certain essential equipment in the health and safety sectors have been affected. Our Textile Industry has the capacity to produce several of those articles that are so necessary for our health workers, as well as for those who work daily to ensure the safety of the citizens of the United States of America. For these purposes, I have been authorized to notify the following:
* Any textile company that manufactures uniforms/components/equipment for the Department of Defense may operate as long as it adjusts its production to manufacture, in addition, personal protective equipment and that – before starting – is inspected by officers of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PROSHA), before starting operations and certifying that the contingency plan complies with the protocols established in the event of the spread of COVID-19.
* Any textile company that manufactures personal protective equipment (E.g. face masks, caps, lab coats, gloves and any other medical equipment for health protection), may operate, as long as, before beginning, it is inspected by officials of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PROSHA) and that they certify that their contingency plan complies with the protocols established in the event of the spread of COVID-19. Due to the world situation with the spread of COVID-19, the Hon. Wanda Vázquez Garced, signed Administrative Bulletin No. OE- 2020-20 in order to establish a state of emergency for Puerto Rico and the necessary measures to be taken to combat this threat. The Executive Orders issued under the state of emergency that concerns us, constitute the exercise of the power of the state to protect the life, health and safety of its citizens.
For these purposes, it is imperative that government entities operating in the health and safety sectors, as well as medical-hospital entities, have priority in the acquisition of the products described above manufactured in Puerto Rico. Some cities have experience difficulty in acquiring the safety items needed to operate. In Puerto Rico, we have the opportunity to support the work and security of the health personnel, producing these equipments. It is our duty to provide the necessary help to re-establish operations for this purpose. Likewise, we will continue to keep monitor the latest events and expert recommendations, and under the Reorganization Plan 4-1994 of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, as amended, we will take additional and urgent measures to protect health and safety, and in harmony with the Governor’s orders and directives for emergency duration.
Companies authorized to resume operations must adjust their operational plans to protect the health of their employees and respect the protocols required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We express our willingness to serve as a liaison with other government agencies. We are at your service for any additional requests you may have. Our best wishes to all of you and your loved ones.