While Briggs & Stratton executives were working from the safety of their homes during the pandemic, negotiating millions of dollars in bonuses for themselves, and finalizing plans to move hundreds of jobs out of the Milwaukee area, Mike Jackson was being worked to death in the company’s Wauwatosa plant to make products that consumers could not buy for months.

Mike Jackson was a Briggs & Stratton worker, union member, and husband who died of coronavirus after fighting for safety on the job. To protest the injustice of his premature death and the corporate system of greed that caused it, the worker-led union Milwaukee IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) organized a demonstration on July 2 that marched to the company’s Wauwatosa plant from the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brookfield.

On June 4, the Milwaukee-based advocate group for immigrants and low-wage workers, Voces de la Frontera, filed a complaint with federal and state health agencies in connection with the tragic death of Mike Jackson, a Briggs & Stratton assembly-line worker who died from COVID-19. Not only did the company fail to protect workers, but also used retaliation tactics against an employee who spoke out about the need for safety on the job.

The 45-year old father of eight collapsed while working at the Wauwatosa factory. The company had kept him working at an exhausting pace, in tight quarters with other workers, because they considered him an “essential” worker. Jackson and his co-workers were never given the explanation as to why the assembly of lawn-mower engines and pressure washers was considered “essential” to public health and safety during a devastating global health crisis.

Prior to his death, Jackson and his co-workers had been organizing to try and get the company to implement CDC-OSHA guidelines for protecting the health and lives of workers from the spread of COVID-19. Jackson’s family says he felt pressured into working sick because the company did not offer paid sick leave.

The July 2 rally outside Briggs & Stratton saw several dozen protesters march in solidarity with the Jackson family and company workers. Event organizers said that Briggs did not provide its workers with even minimal protection against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Demonstrators carried signs with an illustration of Jackson’s face, and demanded Briggs implement a list of safety demands. Some of the remedies included requiring all workers to wear a face covering, supply PPE to workers daily, provide all employees paid sick leave, and offer essential workers fair compensation like hazard pay. Briggs has rolled out a cleaning protocol at the plant, but Jackson’s family said the minimal effort was ineffective and did not meet state health guidelines.

In June, the company skipped a bank interest payment of more than $6 million, in order to restore the salaries of its executive board members, which had been reduced at the height of the pandemic. The combined $2.6 million payout was considered a lavish and undeserved bonus for its executives, at a time when “essential” workers faced death without physical protection or financial compensation.

Joe Brusky and Voces de la Frontera