Protesters and Police at Vos’ House
A Racine County Sheriff's deputy removes a photo of Mike Jackson and his family from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' mailbox Thursday. Demonstrators laid a wreath and left the photo following statements by Vos that the COVID-19 surge was due to immigrants and a difference in culture. Jackson died from COVID-19. (Photo by Samer Ghani)

Vos has ignored pressure to call the Legislature into session, even as the coronavirus rips through workplaces and disproportionately affects people of color.

Protesters laid a memorial in front of the Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ house Thursday to commemorate the lives of two essential workers who died from the coronavirus after they felt pressured into working sick because their companies did not provide sick leave.

Minutes after the memorial, composed of a wreath and photographs of the workers, was placed at Vos’ mailbox, Racine County Sheriff’s Deputies removed it. Deputies told WISN’s Hillary Mintz that Vos asked they be taken away.

The demonstration, led by immigrant and worker advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, comes a week after the release of a secret recording in which Vos falsely blamed immigrants and “a difference in culture” for the COVID-19 outbreak in Racine County. He refused to apologize for the racist comments, despite calls from Latino advocates for the Republican lawmaker to resign.

Demonstrators made their way to Vos’ home in rural Racine County in memory of Mike Jackson, a father of eight who died last month after he collapsed at work at Briggs & Stratton in Wauwatosa, and Juan Manuel Reyes Valdez, an employee of Echo Lake Foods in Burlington who died on June 3.

Chance Zomber, left, and Adebisi Agoro stand outside Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ house Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Samer Ghani)

Companies nationwide have failed to protect their essential employees during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in disproportionate outbreaks among people of color, who are more likely to be essential workers.

Voces de la Frontera and family members allege that Jackson and Reyes Valdez caught COVID-19 at work and were pressured into working sick because their employers do not provide sick leave. An unknown number of Briggs employees have coronavirus, and at least 22 Echo Lake employees are infected, according to statements read at a press conference before the caravan went to Vos’ home.

“He needs to be held accountable for what he’s been doing to our state: dismantling us and killing our communities,” said Fabi Maldonado, Racine County’s only Latino supervisor, and just the second ever elected. 

When Vos’ comments were first made public, Maldonado said the speaker should resign. He once again demanded it on Thursday, saying Vos is “scapegoating” the immigrant community in “a classic example of nativism.”

Vos and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have repeatedly ignored calls for legislative intervention to protect workers and provide more coronavirus relief to the people of Wisconsin. They have not called the Legislature into session since mid-April.

Racine County Sheriff’s deputies remove a wreath and signs demonstrators placed on the lawn of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ house Thursday. (Photo by Samer Ghani).

At the press conference, Blanca Hernandez, an organizer with 9to5 said the Legislature should pass a law requiring employers to give workers paid sick leave. Milwaukee voters passed such a law through a referendum in 2008, but the Republican-led Legislature, with support of former Gov. Scott Walker, passed a law three years later banning any city from implementing such a requirement.

Neither company has provided adequate worker protection, allowed space between employees on assembly lines, or informed employees how many workers are infected, or which department those employees worked in, according to Voces de la Frontera. 

“(Reyez Valdez’s) death to COVID-19 was due to the negligence of Echo Lake’s company and for months has dragged their feet in implementing protection against the spread of the virus,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “His untimely death is due to the failure of political leadership like Robin Vos, Fitzgerald, and Trump.”

Adebesi Agoro, one of Jackson’s cousins, spoke at the conference in solidarity with Reyez Valdez’s family. 

“We must come together, make some noise around the subjects, and save some lives,” Agoro said.