Fight Voter Suppression in Orlando

by Ellen Bravo

This is what democracy does NOT look like:

Hundreds of community activists, faith leaders, business owners and others in Orange County, Florida, identified the need for workers to earn paid sick days as a critical way to keep jobs and boost the economy. They scrupulously followed all the rules. That included spending weeks gathering signatures, enough to have 50,000 verified. Opponents placed numerous hurdles in front of them; they cleared every one. The Earned Sick Time initiative was set to go on the ballot.

And then their opponents, led by lobbyists for multi-billion dollar corporations such as Disney and Darden, decided this democracy thing wasn’t going to go their way. Polls and op eds and letters to the editor, the buzz in grocery stores and bodegas, beauty salons and church pews, show public opinion favors the ordinance.

After all, no one wants to lose their job or paycheck for being a good parent to a sick child or following doctor’s orders when they themselves fall ill.

And no one wants to be served flu with their food.

So what’s a big lobbyist to do?

First they tried a lawsuit. The courts just threw that out.

Then they tried to push Orlando Mayor Teresa Jacobs to keep the measure off the ballot. Even though she opposes the Earned Sick Time measure, the Mayor understood that citizens in her jurisdiction followed the proper processes, and that she could not stand in the way.

The special interests’ next move was to try to muddy the waters, add a second contrary ballot initiative that would undo the Earned Sick Time measure, even if it passed. This method comes courtesy of the group ALEC, a shadowy collaboration between corporate lobbyists and state legislators that produces model legislation such as the notorious Stand Your Ground law along with bills to attack workers’ rights and suppress the vote.

The pre-emption move didn’t work either. But the special interests did get a slim majority of the Commissioners to commit a shocking abdication of responsibility. According to the Commission’s charter, the elected officials’ job was clear: within 30 days, approve the initiative themselves or turn it over to the voters to decide in the next election. Period. No other legal option exists.

Instead, by a vote of 4-3, the Commission chose to hire an outside attorney to suggest revisions to the ballot initiative language and bring those back to the board Oct. 16. That would be almost a month past the deadline printing the ballot.

The execs at these giant corporations all earn paid sick days. So do every one of the Commissioners — thanks to taxpayer dollars.

It’s hard to understand why they don’t want the workers who serve food, take tickets at attractions and clean hotel rooms also to be able to earn paid time off when they’re sick. But if that’s how they feel, the democratic process allows them to say so loud and clear.

What it doesn’t allow is for them to steal the democratic right of voters to decide for themselves.

As Marion Washington, chair of Citizens for a Greater Orange County, put it, “Earned Sick Time enjoys more than 80% support among Hispanics and African Americans.  By silencing these voices, commissioners have pulled the curtain back on an ugly political system where there is one set of rules for special interests and politicians – they all have earned sick time – and another for the hardworking families that make Orange County a premier destination for travelers the world over.”

You Can Help

Here’s what you can do to support democracy in Orange County:

Call, email, Facebook and tweet the commissioners demanding them to follow the law and refer Earned Sick Time to the ballot. You can get their contact information here:

http://orangecountyfl.net/

For those who have family, friends or organization members living in Orange County, please show up at the Commission meeting on September 18 to stand up for democracy.

They can’t steal our votes – and they can’t steal our ballots.