Editors Note: On August 26th Orange County voters will have the opportunity to vote YES on ordinance that came via citizen initiative to guarantee earned sick time for employees of businesses in the county. The Florida Squeeze strongly endorses this initiative and we are fortunate to have this contribution from Stephanie Porta, the Executive Director of Organize Now and one of the leaders of the fight for working families in this state.
We will have more on this and other grassroots efforts in Orange County in the coming days.
Florida, and especially Central Florida, needs Earned Sick Time badly. More than two in five working Floridians do not have Earned Sick Time. A disproportionate number of those workers are in low-wage service sector jobs that are prevalent in our tourism-based region. Without Earned Sick Time, families are forced to choose between going to work sick and staying home – losing a day’s wages and risking termination.
The lack of Earned Sick Time hits working women especially hard – because it is most often women who have the responsibility for caring for a sick child or other family member. Last year, a PPP Poll found that 80% of likely Florida voters support Earned Sick Time. Of women who were surveyed, 86% support Earned Sick Time.
Adding insult to injury, the state legislature passed HB 655 at the behest of powerful corporate interests. HB 655 violates home rule in our state’s Constitution and specifically prohibits political subdivisions from enacting ordinances or citizen led referendums regarding employment benefits such as Earned Sick Time.
The law is particularly troubling because Orange County citizens are voting on Earned Sick Time this month but preemption will render the election results moot. This means that more than 50,000 people who signed petitions placing the first-ever citizen-led referendum on the ballot in Orange County will be disenfranchised and the right to decide this issue locally has been lost by all Florida voters.
Prominent women including Gloria Steinem, Ethel Kennedy, Pat Schroeder and other leading Florida voices signed a letter urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 655, and yet, he signed the bill into law anyway.
Earned Sick Time policies are good for businesses’ bottom line. Employees’ lower productivity when working sick costs employers an estimated $160 billion annually, considerably more than the cost of staying home. In addition, Earned Sick Time ultimately benefits American taxpayers, as they can save $1.1 billion in emergency room visits annually.
As anyone who has a child at home knows, it’s always best for sick children to be able to stay home with a parent – they get better faster and don’t run the risk of getting their classmates sick.
The fight for Earned Sick Time in Orange County, in Florida and across the country continues. It must. For women, families and workers it isn’t a choice to back down.
Stephanie Porta is the Executive Director of Organize Now and a great champion of the causes we hold near and dear to our hearts as progressive Floridians.