Clergy group backs workers and Safer at Home extension

    Zoom screen shot of clergy press conference
    Clergy and workers took part in an online news conference Wednesday to support extending the state's Safer at Home order and call for better support for healthcare workers and other essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Screenshot)

    An interfaith group of clergy joined workers Wednesday to back the extension of Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order through May and to criticize Republican legislative leaders for trying to block it with a lawsuit filed in the state Supreme Court.

    Participants, representing Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and other faith groups, took part to show “their support for the moral imperative to stay at home and keep us all safe,” said Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, executive director for Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, which organized an online news conference along with SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

    “It is imperative that we all stay home to protect the safety of ourselves, our families, our communities and especially our first responders and health care workers who risk their lives to care for us,” said Margulis.

    “The governor’s order should not be undermined,” she continued. “It is dismaying that protesters organized by extremists and white supremacists are taking this opportunity to launch a dangerous demonstration against the governor’s order, thereby putting themselves, others and healthcare workers at risk in order to promote their ideology under the guise of helping workers.”

    Speakers called on the Legislature to abandon the GOP-led lawsuit and instead work to pass legislation guaranteeing hazard pay, personal protective equipment (PPE), paid sick leave and free medical coverage for treatment and prevention of COVID-19 for healthcare workers and other critical employees during the pandemic.

    “We are all deeply concerned about the economic impact this pandemic has wrought, particularly on those least able to withstand an economic shock,” Margulis said. “Small business owners fear bankruptcy. People are struggling with sudden unemployment, layoffs, cut hours.”

    UW Hospital emergency room nurse Mariah Clark, specifying that she was speaking only for herself and not her employer, described a continued shortage of personal protective equipment faced by healthcare workers generally.

    “These are the stakes for healthcare workers in this pandemic — it’s life and death,” said Clark.

    “The recent protests [elsewhere] and the one in Madison for Friday show no respect to those of us who are trying to keep Americans safe,” she added —  not just healthcare workers, but “all essential workers” including those in food service, grocery stores and mass transit along with hospital and nursing home employees. “All of us are risking our lives during this crisis.”

    Rev. Gregory Lewis, president of the voter-organizing group Souls to the Polls and pastor of St. Gabriel Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee, spoke of his own recent bout with COVID-19, including his hospitalization. While he survived the illness, others close to him did not.

    “Four of my friends died while I was in the hospital,” said Lewis. “To ask people to co-mingle at this point is just ludicrous.”

    Along with Lewis, Rev. Marcus Allen, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Madison and the president of the African American Council of Churches there, pointed out that people of color are disproportionately represented among those with the COVID-19 infection, including those who have died in the state. And one reason, he said, is that they are more likely to receive inadequate medical attention.

    His own mother, a Milwaukee resident, lived through COVID-19, but Allen said her illness went misdiagnosed for weeks, including by fire department rescue personnel who responded to a 911 call and told her she wasn’t sick enough to go to the hospital. “They didn’t even take her temperature,” said Allen. “She had a 103-degree fever.”

    After she was ultimately tested and treated, he complained to the fire department which subsequently produced a report that admitted personnel had not followed the proper procedure, he said.

    “I’m afraid that is happening to others,” Allen said. “To so many in the African American community.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.