California assemblywoman Buffy Wicks was denied her request to vote by proxy while on maternity leave on the basis that she is "not at higher risk" for COVID-19.

By Maressa Brown
September 03, 2020
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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shed light on one ongoing injustice after the next, a national conversation is brewing around the egregious way working parents—mothers, in particular—are treated by their employers. Earlier this week, the crisis was illustrated by lawmakers in California. Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, was refused the ability to vote by proxy while on maternity leave, on the basis that she was deemed not at "higher risk" for COVID-19. In turn, she was required to bring her newborn to the Assembly floor during the final evening of session, so she could cast her vote on legislation regarding the state's housing crisis.

Footage of Wicks on the floor, holding her one-month-old and working until midnight, quickly went viral.

The incident caused an understandable uproar from national political stars.

Hillary Clinton—whose presidential campaign Wicks worked on—tweeted that Wicks "was told that having recently given birth wasn't sufficient excuse to cast a vote remotely."

Christina Pelosi, daughter of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, noted, "Expecting + new moms can be “in the room where it happens” by being in the zoom where it happens."

If the incident, in and of itself, wasn't troubling enough, 10 Republican state Senators were allowed to vote remotely via videoconferencing. They had been put under quarantine orders after one of the lawmakers contracted COVID-19 and potentially exposed the others, reported the L.A. Times. However, the Assembly only allowed a vote-by-proxy system.

In light of the public outcry, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon issued an apology to Wicks. "My intention was never to be inconsiderate toward her, her role as a legislator, or her role as a mother," Rendon said in a statement. "Inclusivity and electing more women into politics are core elements of our Democratic values. Nevertheless, I failed to make sure our process took into account the unique needs of our members. The Assembly needs to do better."

In her own statement, reported by Politico, Wicks noted that she appreciated the apology and noted that she looks forward to working with Rendon "to create policies that meet working parents' needs, during this health crisis and beyond — not just for the members of the state Legislature but also for the Californians that we serve."

But as working parents facing countless pandemic- and economy-fueled challenges know all too well, what happened to Wicks is far from an isolated incident. It's something that happens across industries, all over the country, every single day. And as parents grapple with juggling their careers, child care, and distance learning, this incident shows just how much work needs to be done to level playing field for professionals who also happen to be raising a future generation.

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