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FL legislative task force leaves workers sick, unpaid

Get well, or get paid...tough choice
Get well, or get paid...tough choice

As reported in the Sun Sentinel, a task force created by the Florida legislature last spring recommended today that both state and local government be barred from requiring private employers to give workers a minimum amount of paid sick-leave.

The recommendations come as no surprise to followers of a legislature dominated by conservative Republicans with close ties to the Chamber of Commerce.

Neither are they any shock in labor, progressive and Democratic circles, accustomed as they all are to battling anti-worker initiatives advanced by the Chamber, GOP legislators and Gov. Rick Scott.

As Orlando-based Organize Now Executive Director Stephanie Porta told the Sentinel:

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..."

The release of today's draft report closes the door in Florida - for now - on the issue of whether paid sick-leave should be considered a basic legal right of employment for all working people.

Some of the most profitable and politically connected corporations doing business in Florida, such as Disney and Darden Restaurants, think that's a terrible idea and have spent millions on lobbying and political contributions to make sure it remains only an idea.

But groups like Organize Now and Progress Florida have been very effective in recent years at informing and organizing middle class taxpayers in the general public around the issue.

In fact, Organize Now succeeded last year in gathering over 50,000 signatures and putting a mandatory paid sick-leave (5 days per year) referendum on the 2014 election ballot in Orange County.

It's that referendum which propelled the Chamber, GOP legislators and Gov. Scott to craft and pass a law banning such initiatives statewide, effectively overruling the will of Orange County residents and preempting the opportunity for voters to decide the issue for themselves.

The law was enacted despite vigorous Democratic opposition, but it was so controversial that Republicans agreed to further "evaluate the impact" of paid sick-leave ordinances by creating a task force ; then over-weighted it with Republicans and Chamber boosters.

Four public hearings were held around the state in recent months and extensive testimony was given by economic, business and labor experts who detailed the proven benefits of such laws:

  • Increased worker health, productivity, satisfaction and economic stability
  • Increased public health due to non-exposure to ill workers in restaurants, hotels, etc.
  • Increased worker loyalty/retention and customer satisfaction for employers
  • Taxpayer savings from uninsured workers staying healthier and avoiding hospital ERs

There was also evidence to counter arguments by the Chamber and other business advocacy groups that mandatory paid sick-leave would harm businesses and lead to layoffs.

But the task force today concluded:

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. Allowing the free market to dictate competitive employee benefits is a sound business platform and provides opportunities for growth in the state."

While hundreds of thousands of hard-working Florida families are understandably discouraged and downcast by what sounds to them like cold-hearted, hardcore conservative talking points, worker advocates like Porta are reminding them to remain hopeful, and active:

These same families who will be voting in this year's elections. 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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