We appreciate the thank-you, but frontline workers need your help

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: A janitor sweeps up the entrance area to the Criminal Courts building (Photo by Brian Harkin/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: A janitor sweeps up the entrance area to the Criminal Courts building (Photo by Brian Harkin/Getty Images)

As someone on the front line of this pandemic, I know first-hand: The coronavirus is real, in many cases life-threatening, and it’s the janitors, security officers and more who are putting our lives on the line to keep our city and state clean and safe. I secure an essential facility in downtown Milwaukee where people still come to do work and handle their finances. I make sure people feel safe during an especially dangerous time as they carry out the tasks they need to protect the financial security of their families. 

As part of my job, I still interact with individuals from all walks of life on a daily basis, and I’m nervous about catching this disease, even with my mask, hand sanitizer and gloves. But I have seen a big shift. In my 35 years as a security officer, I’ve never received so many thank-yous for my work. Frontline workers have always known we are essential, and our country is just now realizing the importance and value of our jobs. And while thank-yous are very much appreciated, it’s time to turn gratitude into action and legislation in phase 4 of the coronavirus relief package, or CARES Act.

A crisis of this magnitude requires bold solutions. As Congress debates the next phase of coronavirus relief, we need to make sure it protects frontline workers and our families when it comes time to reopen our economy. This means protecting payroll to make sure that we can continue to support our families and not overburden our unemployment system. Congress must also act to guarantee the personal protective equipment (PPE) that frontline workers at our offices, airports and schools need to stay safe on the job.

Our leaders must also ensure that frontline workers are recognized for our dedication by providing essential pay for essential work. It’s impossible to put a number on our health or safety, but essential pay would go a long way in recognizing the important jobs frontline workers do keeping Wisconsinites clean, safe and healthy. This crisis shows the true essence of why our work is valuable, even if the rest of the country is only beginning to see our worth. 

Frontline workers are coming together to urge Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and my Representative, Gwen Moore, to make sure working people aren’t left behind as we try to limit the economic damage of coronavirus. Airlines and banks have received billions in federal dollars to stay afloat. When Congress reconvenes next month, protecting the livelihoods, families and communities of frontline workers who keep our country going must be at the top of the agenda. 

Congress must also take steps to protect our democracy and ensure everyone — no matter our background or where we live — can vote without fear of contracting the virus. Certain politicians forced voters into a dangerous situation where we felt terrified to exercise our right to go to the polls. That cannot happen again, in our state or in any others, come November. Our leaders need to make it easier for working people to vote by mail and increase safety standards for in-person voting.

The coronavirus crisis shows why the work security officers, janitors and other property service workers do is crucial to keeping our state running. Keep thanking the essential workers in your life and on your job. We appreciate it, but don’t stop with a thank-you. Urge your elected leaders to prioritize working families — not wealthy special interests — in the next coronavirus relief bill. We’re on the front lines of this crisis, and we must be at the table as we work together to find solutions. The contribution and sacrifices of working people must be remembered and recognized.