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Florida Task Force Delivers Kill Shot to Earned Sick Time – For Now

January 12, 2014

When Florida Governor Rick Scott signed HB 655 last spring taking away the right of local units of government to enact earned sick tine, he claimed to do so in the name of “statewide uniformity, consistency and predictability in Florida’s employer-employee relationships.”

In case anyone was uncertain what kind of uniform standard Governor Scott had in mind, a Benefits Study Task Force created by that same legislation has made it crystal clear: The minimum standard of paid sick days Florida workers can earn should remain at zero.

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The Orlando Sentinel described the task force as “made up of mostly Republican lawmakers and business interests.” The group voted 7-2 to support the law that blocks voters and their elected representatives in Orange County and other localities from considering earned sick time initiatives.

But the Task Force went even further, saying the state should avoid creating minimum requirements as well: “It is not government’s role, in this case, to regulate an area that should be determined within the negotiations of the employer/employee relationship.”

Never mind that most workers have no right to negotiate any terms of their employment — certainly not whether they can avoid being fired or losing pay for being a good parent or following doctor’s orders.

Stephanie Porta, who helped lead the broad and diverse coalition that gathered more than 50,000 signatures in support of a ballot initiative in Orange County, issued this statement:

“This decision is especially disappointing given that citizens have continued to work in good faith with legislators since its inception. A slate of highly qualified applicants were submitted in order to create a fair and balanced study, none of whom were selected. A diverse set of panelists, including a worker who lacks this very basic workplace protection, provided testimony, which, it seems, fell on deaf ears.

This task force acted as a rubber stamp on the ‘kill shot’ orchestrated by lobbyists and politicians to protect corporate campaign contributors at the expense of hardworking families – these same families who will be voting in this year’s elections. It was mentioned several times that this issue is just too complex for your average voter to understand. It is this disdain for the very people whose votes put them in office that is perhaps the most offensive outcome of this study.”

The Orlando Sentinel reminded readers that the legislation preempting earned sick time “was inspired and pushed by Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants after more than 50,000 Orange County residents signed a petition last year to ask voters whether to require that many businesses offer paid sick leave to employees.” The validated signatures meant the issue should have been put on the ballot – and it would have been, had lobbyists for these mega-corporations not influenced county commissioners to delay a decision until after the ballots had been printed. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney found Orange County commissioners violated public records laws by secretly texting with lobbyists before the sick time vote. And a three-judge panel ruled Orange County violated their own charter and demanded the amendment be placed on the next possible ballot.

Unfortunately, as Porta pointed out, the special interest lobbyists had another ace up their sleeve:  a ‘kill shot’ in the legislature to ensure that even if the amendment was put on the ballot, the vote wouldn’t count.

For now, Disney and Darden and their friends in the legislature have blocked local voters and their elected officials from taking action on earned sick time. But they should heed Porta’s words:

We do not see this as the final decision in this matter. In the end, it is the voter who determines what our legislature should do, and they will have the final say in the fight for Earned Sick Time in Florida.”



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