All the legislators debating Wisconsin’s COVID-19 relief bill talked about how strange, terrible or shocking it is to be living through this pandemic.
All but one.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) said she wished she had the luxury of focusing on the new challenges and only addressing the shortcomings of this particular bill, but explained why she did not.
“These are some unprecedented times with the exception of one thing,” began Johnson. “And that one thing is that African Americans all over this country, and in this city, are dying needlessly because of COVID-19 and because of underlying conditions.”
Johnson, who lives in Sherman Park and also represents St. Joseph’s neighborhood, spoke about her constituents’ needs, and how the COVID-19 crisis has only made things many times worse as most of them don’t get to do their jobs from home.
“We know that some of our frontline workers especially here in Milwaukee County — a lot of those individuals happen to be minorities, of African-American descent, Latina. And they work in industries where they don’t have the luxury like we do of going to work via a virtual session,” said Johnson. “They are out there on the frontlines and they are the ones that are providing this state with some form of normalcy during these times. They are our firefighters, our police officers, our grocery store workers, our pharmacy workers, our postal carriers, our sanitation workers, the individuals who clean up in our hospital. A lot of these individuals have preexisting conditions, but they go to work every day.”
Democrats, including Johnson, pushed for measures to help such workers that had been introduced by Gov. Tony Evers but were largely excluded or removed from the final COVID relief bill, including hazard pay for the workers Johnson described.
Also rejected were protections for voting — another topic Johnson took up, clearly chiding Speaker Robin Vos, although not by name, for the photos of him working at the polls in head to toe protective gear that her constituents cannot obtain.
“These are items that a lot of our frontline workers don’t have. Our postal carriers don’t have the privilege of just putting on PPE gear every day, nor do our firefighters or our police officers, but they still do their job. And nowhere, nowhere, in this bill that just passed are they going to receive hazard pay.
“They get up and they do the unthinkable. And many of them do the unthinkable for far less pay than we’re making right now. … Those individuals deserve hazard pay. They deserve to go home to their families and not put their families at risk. And we most definitely need to make sure that they get every penny that they deserve, for literally doing God’s work — something that this body, thus far, has failed to do.”
Watch Johnson’s speech, via Wisconsin Eye, here.