Lawmakers, workers push for paid sick leave legislation amid coronavirus closures

State lawmakers are looking at solutions for workers who are not guaranteed paid sick leave.

As coronavirus spread continues, more workers are losing shifts. Some have to choose whether they risk infecting coworkers and customers or stay home without pay.

Reps. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, and Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, said they have bills that have already been introduced that could help if this becomes an issue again, including AB 666, which expands family and medical leave, and AB 927, which eliminates the prohibition on local governments that prevents them from instituting family and medical leave requirements.

Even if passed now, neither bill could immediately help the situation, but both lawmakers said there is a need for this legislation.

“Right now what we’re seeing is the consequences of some actions that were taken at the state level that are problematic,” Subeck said.

The pair held a teleconference to promote the legislation, inviting hourly workers and a nurse who have been heavily impacted by the spread of the virus.

Justin Otto, who works at a theater in Milwaukee, said without paid leave, he is forced to make a potentially dangerous call when he falls ill.

“Even if I have a bad cold, I’ve always felt obligated to show up to work,” Otto said. “I know for a fact most of my coworkers over the years have also been unable to call in sick because they can’t miss a paycheck, and they can’t afford to get the reputation at work that they aren’t hard workers.”

New regulations from the state have shut down all productions where he works, which have cut his hours to zero.

“It shouldn’t take a public health crisis for the state of Wisconsin to put paid sick leave into place,” he said. “But it’s better late than never.”

Emergency medicine nurse Kate Walton said lack of paid sick leave puts the healthcare industry at risk.

As they deal with short staffing, nurses rely on the public to reduce coronavirus spread. Most importantly, she said, by staying home.

“I see patients every day who go to their jobs despite being infectious because they need to feed their families,” Walton said. “Not because they don’t care or want to work sick but because they have no other choice.”

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not return a request for comment to say if he would consider any measures to protect workers or Wisconsin’s economy during this time.