Unmasked: Report shows major corporations back campaign to block federally coordinated medical supplies

Media Release

April 16th, 2020

For more information contact: Kevin Connor, kevin@public-accountability.org (718) 916-0925

Washington DC– A report released today by unions and advocacy groups exposes the role that major corporations have played via their leadership in the US Chamber of Commerce, in lobbying the Trump Administration not to utilize the Defense Production Act to coordinate medical supply distribution in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Hospitals, doctors, nurses and healthcare workers have implored the White House to use its power under the Defense Production Act to get critically needed tests, protective gear and ventilators produced and distributed to healthcare and other essential workers, but the US Chamber of Commerce has lobbied the White House not to use the Act.

“COVID-19 has revealed, perhaps more than ever before, the Chamber’s reckless and cruel priorities. This research reminds us that in making this choice, the Chamber is acting on behalf of the corporations it represents,” said Kevin Connor, Executive Director of the Public Accountability Initiative, that released the study today with the Partnership for Working Families, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), Bargaining for the Common Good, and Care Test Protect Campaign.

“The crisis we face with the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. It requires us – all of us – to work for the common good,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “But at a time when our country is depending on skilled workers to make essential products like ventilators, IUE-CWA members at General Electric are left wondering why they are facing layoffs instead of having the opportunity to use their skills to help save lives. It’s shameful that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is actively lobbying against the use of the Defense Production Act.”

The report “Unmasked: The Corporations Backing a Lobbying Campaign Against the Use of the Defense Production Act” documents that many of the most powerful corporations that lead the Chamber have direct financial interests in how the COVID-19 response plays out. The reports authors argue that these companies–-including medical manufacturers like 3M and Honeywell, major employers of frontline workers, and big banks–-have the power and responsibility to reverse the Chamber’s lobbying agenda that prioritizes corporate control and profit over public health and well-being.

“The largest, wealthiest, and most powerful corporations and industries have to show leadership by looking past their bottom lines,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “Unfortunately their response so far has been nothing short of appalling. SEIU members are going to keep calling out the Chamber of Commerce and the corporate CEOs that fund it until they put the lives of our loved ones ahead of profits.”

Key findings:

  • 3M and Honeywell, two of the major makers of N95 masks, are both members of the Chamber’s board of directors, suggesting they have significant influence over the organization’s agenda and engagement with its advocacy program. Both companies have announced plans to ramp up production of N95 masks in response to the coronavirus crisis while at the same time remaining in leadership at an organization that is attempting to block federal coordination of the production and distribution of the masks and other life-saving equipment.
  • A host of other companies are also continuing to back the Chamber as it blocks the use of the DPA to produce critically-needed medical supplies and pushes for massive, no-strings attached handouts to Wall Street and big business:
    • Ventilator manufacturers: GE, Medtronic, Dyson.
    • Major employers of frontline workers: FedEx, UPS, Amazon, Walmart, Target.
    • Big banks: US Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan.
      Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals: Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer, and Bayer.
    • Fossil fuels: Shell Oil, Phillips 66, Sempra Energy, Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips, and Devon Energy.

The report’s recommendations call on corporations affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce to swiftly and publicly support full invocation of the Defense Production Act to speed and coordinate the production of urgently needed PPE, tests, ventilators and other medical equipment, and pressure the Chamber to do the same.

“While the Trump administration and corporations like 3M playact at public conflict, this report shows that they are privately aligned to protect profits, not us. Corporations’ capture of our government is keeping necessary protection from frontline, essential workers— nurses, doctors, grocery workers, warehouse workers— in this pandemic, putting all of us at risk,” said Lauren Jacobs, Executive Director of the Partnership for Working Families. “Corporations like 3M, Honeywell, and Amazon must publicly declare their support for the use of the Defense Production Act and tell the Chamber to do the same.

“Preventing the supply of affordable PPE left communities of color to be ravaged by Covid-19, with deadly consequences for Black people in particular. Many of the workers deemed ‘essential’ to our society are Black and Brown, both serving and living within the same communities which experience higher rates of systemic health disparities, don’t have access to or can’t afford healthcare and live in crowded conditions which prevent social distancing,” said Saqib Bhatti, Co-Executive Director of ACRE. “Their actions amount to a racist attack on the health and safety of these communities, and they must be held accountable. “

Leaders from four major unions, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and National Education Association (NEA) wrote to Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue, admonishing his organization’s profit-motivated efforts to block the DPA as “unfathomable.”

“I am disgusted, but by no means surprised, to find out that the companies with the biggest financial stake in this pandemic are trying to evade any responsibility to simply do the right thing. It’s time for the President to use the full authority of his powers under the Defense Production Act to unite the American people and American Industry in a strategy to combat the pandemic,” said Erin Murphy, RN co-founder of the Care Test Protect Campaign and Executive Director of the Minnesota-based non-profit Our Stories Our Health.

A petition to five CEOs to call on the Chamber of Commerce to support full invocation of the Defense Production Act was launched Thursday morning.