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Elimination of Local Sick Time Laws: "What's Next?", Ask Opponents

Photo: The Florida AFL-CIO is concerned about workers losing benefits like earned sick days and a living wage. Courtesy: Florida AFL-CIO
Photo: The Florida AFL-CIO is concerned about workers losing benefits like earned sick days and a living wage. Courtesy: Florida AFL-CIO
October 28, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Just months after the Florida legislature passed a state law (HB 655) that preempted any local laws requiring employers to offer earned sick time, a task force formed by the state senate is meeting to revisit the issue of employer-provided benefits, including the right of local governments to establish requirements.

Andy Madtes, president of the South Florida AFL-CIO and a member of the task force, said he's concerned that lawmakers could be looking to impose broader restrictions on local governments.

"My concern - in trying to get my arms around really what are we trying to accomplish with the task force - the question really then becomes, can they go beyond just the sick days?"

Madtes said legislators could pass laws that would pre-empt local requirements regarding a living wage or other pro-worker regulations.

In Florida, the AFL-CIO says that between 40 and 60 percent of workers don't have earned sick time, particularly those who work in such service industries as food service and hospitality. According to Rich Templin, legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO, that's bad for all Floridians, since it encourages people to work even when they're sick.

"It's a major public health issue, because most of this is taking place in the service industry that comes into contact with people."

More than 50,000 Orange County voters tried to place the earned sick time measure on the ballot for last year, but the County Commission voted to keep it off. Following that, a three-judge panel ordered it to be put on the 2014 ballot, but the new state law now preempts the local vote.

Templin said that not having access to earned sick time forces Florida workers to make a tough choice.

"That means when they're sick or their families are sick, they have to choose between coming to work; not going to work and receiving no pay, which most of them can't afford; or not going to work, caring for themselves or their family members, and losing their jobs."

Next month, the task force will meet for the final time, then make recommendations to the state senate about possible changes. Opponents of local regulations say there needs to be statewide uniformity in the laws.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL