Milwaukee Will Give Hazard Pay to All Frontline City Employees
Milwaukee City Hall. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

The pay boost will last through July 27 for all city employees who cannot work from home.

All frontline City of Milwaukee employees unable to work from home will receive a $3.13 hourly hazard pay benefit through July 27 under a new proclamation from Mayor Tom Barrett.

The total cost of the program, funded by the city’s $103 million coronavirus relief package from the federal CARES Act, is estimated to be $2.7 million, according to a fiscal summary filed with the city. It will affect up to 2,400 full-time employees, according to the fiscal summary.

In his proclamation, originally issued May 22, Barrett said that the hazard pay was necessary to help out the workers and ensure the city maintained essential services such as cleaning, maintenance, mental health care, and medical testing. City aldermen unanimously adopted the proclamation Thursday morning in a 14-0 vote.

“We were very concerned that we still had people performing essential duties in the middle of a health emergency,” Maria Monteagudo, Milwaukee’s employee relations director, told the City Council.

Most public-facing employees are included, Monteagudo said. That includes those in positions such as clerks, secretaries, sanitation workers, and building inspectors.

Employees will not receive retroactive hazard pay due to restrictions on the way CARES Act funding can be used, Monteagudo said.  

“This measure brings Milwaukee in line with many other municipalities across the area,” Alderwoman Milele Coggs said in a statement. “I believe this is an issue of fairness that is in the best interest of many of our workers and that is why I sponsored the initial legislation asking the Department of Employee Relations to investigate this issue.”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light just how undervalued many “essential workers” are. Massive companies, from Amazon to Kroger, are taking hazard pay away despite the coronavirus pandemic’s end being nowhere in sight. Others yet have taken heat for calling their workers “heroes” yet doing nothing to support them financially.

U.S. House Democrats’ new relief bill allocated $200 million for essential-worker hazard pay. The bill passed the house, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already effectively killed the House’s bill and said this week that he would “likely” consider another bill “in the next month or so.”

Peter Rickman, executive director of the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization, or MASH, said the city’s willingness to extend hazard pay to its employees was a good move, but added that private-sector workers deserve the same benefit.

“Private-sector employers should be following the lead of the city on this by providing hazard pay, not to mention guaranteed paid sick time and health care coverage for everyone who has continued to work,” Rickman said.

But in the absence of private employer action, Rickman said workers should be not afraid to organize and speak out, whether it be to their own bosses, elected officials, or the media.

“The reality here is that we’ve seen these private-sector companies be unwilling to do this on their own because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “What we really need are worker voices to be at the table with the employers of essential workers at this time and beyond.”