Francesca Hong Wins A Seat In The Wisconsin Legislature. She’s Fighting For A Living Wage And Workers’ Rights.
The chef and restaurant owner says she plans to support the fight for a $15 minimum wage and other reforms that will make ‘Wisconsin work better for more people.’
Francesca Hong, a small business owner who supports raising the minimum wage and other reforms to help workers, has won her bid to fight for those reforms from within the halls of Wisconsin’s State Assembly. Hong, the child of immigrants, has become Wisconsin’s first Asian American state legislator.
In October, Hong told The Appeal that reforms like a higher minimum wage and labor contracts for hourly workers aren’t just about fairness for workers. They’re also a means to strengthen both small businesses and the communities that depend on them. Hong, who owns a restaurant in downtown Madison with her husband, said investing in workers is ultimately better for businesses, like the restaurant and retail industries, that have what she called “a huge problem with labor turnover.”
A living wage and reforms like contracts for hourly workers, Hong said, would give employees a reason to want to stay in their jobs. “In return, a better-off workforce and more stable local businesses strengthen communities because,” Hong said, “most employees are putting [their] money back into their communities.” Increasing workers’ purchasing power, she added, would make both the businesses they patronize and the communities those businesses are in more self-sustaining.
In a statement to the press announcing her victory, Hong emphasized the role she believes small business owners should play in working “towards more equitable economic infrastructure.”
Saying she is “grateful beyond measure” for the support of her district’s voters, Hong immediately turned to the challenges ahead.
“We must strive to help working class individuals and families to improve conditions in housing, public education, job security and wealth building,” she said. “We must invest in our main streets, taking the lead from independent small business owners, to work towards more equitable economic infrastructure. But above all, we must prioritize racial equity and work to invest in communities that have been defunded and decimated by irresponsible and apathetic GOP leadership.”
Hong plans to support legislation to give tax credits to small businesses that provide hazard pay and paid sick leave for hourly workers. Although improving workers’ pay and working conditions are important issues for her, she said she was also inspired to run by what she called the “inaction from the GOP leadership” during the COVID-19 crisis.
Hong’s criticism about the current state legislature seems to be backed up by the numbers. According to an October report by WisPolitics.com, Wisconsin’s legislature has been the least active full-time legislative body in the U.S. since states started meeting to address the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, a legislative committee did meet to block a rule prohibiting landlords from charging late fees on rent during the public health crisis.
Several members of the Republican-led body are landlords, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Since 2011, the legislature has passed a series of Vos-backed bills dismantling tenant rights, including one that allows landlords to put renters’ belongings on the curb immediately after an eviction rather than placing the property in storage.
“I think now we’re having to fight, and folks here in Madison are having to fight for basic human rights, and it’s because of the past 10 years of really regressive policies” beginning when Scott Walker was elected governor in 2011, Hong said. Walker lost his 2019 re-election bid to Democrat Tony Evers.
Even though her desired reforms are likely to face an uphill battle, Hong said one of the driving forces behind her decision to run was her desire to answer the question: “What does it mean to have representation matter?”
“I decided to run for the state legislature because it’s really missing representation” from working-class individuals and people of color, Hong said, “folks who have most often been harmed by government. I think that I’m learning more about those people. I’m thinking about how government has harmed me, and how I don’t want that to be the story anymore.”
“I’m born and raised in Wisconsin, I’m a daughter of immigrants … and to know that there are so many people who do not feel safe, who do not feel like they have the opportunities I have, has really made me re-evaluate what’s going on.”
“The work is expansive, but with constant collaboration and involvement with this community, I am confident we will get shit done together,” she said in her election night statement.