ORLANDO, Fla. – In what may prove to be one of the most important campaigns in the Sunshine State’s recent history, local labor, community, and business leaders here are working diligently to collect 52,000 registered voters signatures. They hope to place on the November ballot an initiative that would require businesses in this tourist-heavy city to provide up to one week of employee-earned sick time.

While only 42,000 signatures are required to get the initiative on the ballot, the coalition hopes to submit 52,000 signatures before the August 7 deadline – just in case some signatures are thrown out, due to inaccuracies or mistakes.

No citizen initiative has ever made it to the ballot in Orange County – which is where Orlando is located – but local coalition partners are optimistic that this time will be different.

“People want this. They need it. It isn’t just a workers’ rights issue. It is a community health issue,” Denise Diaz, from southern Florida Jobs with Justice told the People’s World. “The support for this initiative is overwhelming.”

In fact, according to Mark Shippley, from Organize NOW Florida, “We’ve received overwhelming support from the business community – especially small business.”

Currently, tens-of-thousands of restaurant, grocery, and other workers in Orlando do not have the right to earned sick time, potentially endangering millions of tourists who visit here annually.

According to 2010 census estimates, only 46 percent of private sector workers in Orange County receive earned sick time.

“If this initiative passes, it will affect the over 80 percent of the local workforce,” Shippley added. “Even workers who currently get some earned sick time, but maybe not an entire week, will benefit from this initiative.”

Nationally, about half of full-time, private sector workers – totaling 57 million working Americans – receive no earned sick time. Additionally, 79 percent of low-wage workers receive no earned sick time and 94 million working Americans cannot take earned sick time to care for an ill child or family member.

Furthermore, the lack of earned sick time is a public health concern, as workers who disproportionately lack earned sick time also work disproportionately in low-wage service sector jobs. In fact, only 22 percent of food and public accommodation workers have earned sick time. Workers in child care centers, retail clerks, and nursing homes also disproportionately lack this important benefit.

If the ballot initiative in Orlando is successful, businesses with 15 or more workers will be required to provide at least one hour of earned sick time for every 37 hours worked – up to one week of earned sick time.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first city to pass an earned sick time initiative, and in 2011, Connecticut became the first state to enact earned sick time legislation. Currently, similar initiative are being pursued in numerous other cities and states all across the country.

Additionally, progressive organizations, unions, and community groups are relying on the ballot initiative process more and more, especially as Republican-dominated legislatures refuse to do anything to address workers’ rights, health care, jobs, and the economy.

Activists here in Orlando also see the ballot initiative as a way to boost voter turnout this November, as Florida is a hotly contested swing state. If the earned sick time ballot initiative makes on the November ballot it could dramatically increase voter turnout among low-wage workers, people of color, women, and youth.

According to the coalition, 88 percent of Orlando residents support the initiative, which is supported by the Florida AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the Service Employees Union, the Communication Workers’ Union, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, among many other groups and organizations.


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.