Jackson’s family says he felt pressured into working sick because the company doesn’t provide sick leave.
Virl Newsom knows a mother should never have to bury her son. But now the date June 12 is forever etched into her memory. The pain will never go away, she said.
“I still got his number in my phone, and sometimes I go to my phone, I attempt to call him,” Newsom said through tears. “And it dawns on me: He’s not here anymore.”
But it did make things just a little easier when about 50 protesters marched Thursday to Briggs & Stratton, where her son, Mike Jackson, collapsed while working. Less than two weeks after he collapsed, he died of the coronavirus.
Jackson’s family says he caught the deadly virus at work because Briggs didn’t provide its workers with adequate protection against the virus. His condition deteriorated as he felt pressured to work sick because the company doesn’t provide paid sick leave. Employees who quarantine voluntarily or who test positive for COVID-19 are eligible for just $375 per week in short-term disability payments.
The demonstrators — some family members, some coworkers — carried signs emblazoned with Jackson’s image. They handed out fliers, also adorned with his face, including a list of demands for Briggs: to require face coverings, supply employees with a new face mask each day, give all employees paid sick leave, and provide hazard pay for essential workers.
“I know people care,” Newsom said as she sat on the grass outside Briggs’ headquarters. “They care about what happened. That’s why they’re trying to get stuff done.”
Workers have told UpNorthNews that the protections Briggs & Stratton have put into place — including providing some hand sanitizer, taping the floors to encourage social distancing, and installing some plastic barriers — are not enough.
The company has not previously responded to UpNorthNews’ questions about whether it would reconsider enacting a mandatory mask policy, consider providing hazard pay to employees, or whether it would consider giving employees sick leave.
Meanwhile, the company decided last month to skip a $6.7 million interest payment, restore its executive board members’ salaries after they were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and give executives a combined $2.6 million in what the company is calling “awards.“
“It seems like they care about money more than people’s health,” said Jackson’s oldest son, Mike Jackson, Jr.
The younger Jackson said he’s hopeful the company will protect its workers more after the demonstration.
“I don’t want no other family going through what we’re going through,” he said. “Like, at all. Nobody should have to lose their life just to make ends meet.”
Briggs did not immediately respond Thursday when asked if it would implement any of the changes demonstrators asked for. It’s unclear whether Briggs will respond, because the company announced last week that it is shipping 200 jobs — which account for most of the company’s production in Wauwatosa — to a plant in Sherill, New York.
Jackson left behind eight children. His family described him as a dedicated father, hard worker, and a jokester.
“He’d keep you laughing,” said Adebisi Agoro, Jackson’s younger cousin. “Always had a joke, always somewhere on the side and pop up something funny. … It’s been a whirlwind, for sure. Death comes abruptly.”
The protest arrived at Briggs just before the second shift began. Some demonstrators handed out the list of demands to employees coming and going.
“We showed them today it’s possible for us to fight back,” said Chance Zombor, a grievance representative for United Steelworkers Local 2-232, which represents Briggs employees. “People support us. We’re not giving up the fight for Mike Jackson, for justice.”
“He’s not going out without a fight,” Agoro said. “I can sleep well knowing that we are still representing and making noise for Mike.”