Trade groups representing PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and others want guidance on factories from Pence

Key Points
  • Trade groups that represent companies including PepsiCo, Clorox and Procter & Gamble wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging clarity on how safely run their plants as businesses reopen.
  • They are seeking federal guidance on a number of questions, including how many positive employee Covid-19 tests should trigger a plant shutdown.
  • States are beginning to reopen business, making their questions more urgent. 
A PepsiCo delivery truck sits parked outside a grocery store in Phoenix, Arizona.
Caitlin O'Hara | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Trade groups representing the country's biggest consumer companies, including PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Clorox, wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday urging federal guidance on how to safely manage their factory workers as states begin to reopen for business. 

In the letter, which was obtained by CNBC, trade groups, including the Household and Commercial Products Association, American Frozen Food Institute and the Consumer Brands Association, requested federal guidance on a number of issues as they look to safely manage the factories in which they produce America's consumer products.

The questions include how many positive employee Covid-19 tests should trigger a plant shutdown, and when − and how − to administer tests as they begin to reopen a plant that has been closed. They're requesting direction on how to safely configure common areas, such as break rooms, locker rooms, wellness clinics and cafeterias. They want to know how truck drivers should interact with those who have returned to work in manufacturing plants and stores. 

"Federal authorities have individually responded quickly to our industry's inquiries by issuing independent guidance often through frequently asked questions or the addition of new or modified [webpages]," the groups wrote.

"The result is piecemeal guidance, that, while often timely, lacks central coordination creating a daunting level of complexity and making it extremely difficult for companies to develop the comprehensive detailed response plans they need."

Proper treatment of manufacturing facilities has become a lightning rod issue as coronavirus outbreaks have triggered shutdowns of meatpacking plants by companies like Tyson and Smithfield. Tyson has temporarily closed five of its plants because of coronavirus infections. The administration has ordered plants to stay open, deeming them an essential business through the Defense Production Act. 

Meantime, there remains debate over corporate liability for those who get sick while on the job. 

Questions are likely to grow as each state develops its own guidelines and timelines to reopen business. Missouri's government has said it is opening its businesses with restrictionsNebraska will soon open restaurants and salons, and Florida allowed eateries and stores in most of the state to reopen at 25% of their indoor capacity on Monday.

"As the states move toward reopening, strong coordination among agencies to produce detailed federal guidance can reduce confusion and address manufacturers' critical operational challenges," the letter stated.

"Additionally, coordinated and detailed federal guidance is more readily adopted by state and local governments reducing the burden for companies with plants in multiple states."

Pence's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.