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Earned Sick Time Denied in Orange County, Florida

Joseph Hines

Citizens in Orange County, Florida will not have a chance to vote for paid sick leave on November 6th due to the fierce opposition of business allies. 

Earlier this summer, the Citizens for a Greater Orange County gathered 50,000 signatures to place an initiative, called Earned Sick Time, to require any business with more than 15 employees "one hour of sick time for every 37 hours worked," capped at 56 hours a year.

Instead of allowing residents to vote, the Orange County Commission stopped the initiative in its tracks, arguing that it was unclear whether charities and religious organizations would be required to provide paid sick days (why shouldn’t they?). Conveniently, that’s the same rationale used by local business groups in decrying the initiative. The Orlando Sentinel:

"The petition leads voters to believe that its proposed ordinance will impose its sick-leave requirement only on businesses, which is far from true," said Jacob Stuart, president of the Central Florida Partnership, adding that it would also apply to groups such as churches, charities and nonprofit hospitals.

Indeed, the local chambers of commerce were purported to spend up to $2.2 million dollars on advertising to defeat the initiative to the Citizens for a Greater Orange County’s $95,000. Looks like the Orange County Commission has saved them some serious cash.

The petitioners say that the whole controversy is manufactured and the language was clear: nonprofits would be exempt. 

The story doesn’t end there. On Monday, a judge ordered the commission to place the Earned Sick Time on the ballot, but gave the commission 20 days to agree upon the language. The problem? The language would need to be on the ballot Tuesday to make it to the printers for November, a logistical hurdle that the commissioners exploited to avoid following through on the court’s order. 

Orange County’s struggles are a microcosm for the larger problems in enacting worker protections in the face of overwhelming moneyed opposition. Florida’s initiative would only be a modest first step, but now it won’t be considered at all. In the American Family Trust, our proposal for federal paid sick leave leave, we called for 12-weeks of paid leave, which would also double as maternity leave. Paid sick time is crucial protection for low-wage workers who suffer poor pay and few, if any, benefits.  

While Floridians should continue to agitate for paid leave, Orange County’s trouble surmounting business opposition is exactly why we called for federal action. Human rights shouldn’t be left at the mercy of public approval or local politics. Universal rights should be taken up by federal authorities. Over 169 countries mandate paid leave, the United States’ lack of protection for sick workers makes us exceptional, a mantle we should be eager to shake. 

Hat tip to Annie-Rose Strasser at ThinkProgress