Lawmakers' dueling proposals to address labor shortages worsened by COVID

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Democrats and Republicans are offering dueling proposals they believe will address labor shortages that have only gotten worse since the pandemic.

A shortage of workers is becoming a big problem for employers across the state, especially for industries that were understaffed before COVID-19 hit.

Republican lawmakers Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Treig Pronschinske testified in front of the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday to tout a bill that would allow employees to bypass vaccine and testing requirements.

If you’ve already been infected with COVID-19, the bill would allow workers to use that as proof of immunity. Supporters believe it could ease staffing shortages by giving people more protection during the latest COVID-19 surge.

“I believe in natural immunity and I believe in the body’s ability to fight it,” Felzkowski said.

The proposal would allow an employer to accept documentation from a health care provider that proves they already tested positive for the virus, instead of showing proof of vaccination.

Felzkowski argues COVID-19 immunity can also encourage people to seek jobs that may have a vaccine requirement.

“My constituents do not want a vaccine mandate, but that doesn’t mean they are not vaccinated,” said Felzkowski. “They don’t want the government telling them what to do.”

The measure comes as some businesses are being forced to temporarily close due to a spike in positive infections.

The Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Public Health Association, and the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards are all opposed to the bill.

Health professionals stress immunity for a previous infection does not offer the same protection as the vaccine. Opponents are also concerned the proposal could discourage people from getting the shot.

While dozens, mostly maskless, packed overflow committee rooms to show their support for the immunity bill, Democrats held a virtual press conference on a plan to give health care workers more financial incentives.

Democrats reintroduced legislation that would give health care workers paid sick leave, hazard pay and cover costs related to COVID-19 such as masks and testing supplies.

The legislative package was first introduced in 2020, but didn’t go anywhere since Republicans stalled progress on the proposals.

Louise Nordstrom, a nurse at UnityPoint Health-Meriter, said the proposal could help reduce turnover and attract more people to the profession.

“We lose talented, respected nurses every week because they cannot take the pressures of the job, lack of protection and value for their lives, or the trauma it’s caused,” said Nordstrom. “Providing hazard pay increases value and appreciation for the work that we do for our communities.”

Under the bills, health care workers would get an additional 15 days of paid sick time if they contract COVID-19, receive free testing and treatment for the virus, and get an additional $15 an hour on top of their current wage – or 1.5X their regular salary.

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