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Floridians Battle for National Paid Sick Leave Law

PHOTO: Activists are putting pressure on state and local leaders to support paid sick-leave legislation on the federal level, and pass measures of their own. Photo credit: Doug Geisler, Paid Sick Days Now/Flickr Creative Commons.
PHOTO: Activists are putting pressure on state and local leaders to support paid sick-leave legislation on the federal level, and pass measures of their own. Photo credit: Doug Geisler, Paid Sick Days Now/Flickr Creative Commons.
February 18, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. - President Obama called for it in his State of the Union address last month, and now there's legislation in Congress to help the 43 million American workers who can't earn time off for sick days.

The Healthy Families Act would establish a national standard for paid sick leave. Proponents of the law in Florida say the state's tourism-based economy could especially benefit.

Judy Neufeld, women's program director for the Orlando-based Florida Institute of Reform and Empowerment, said thousands of workers - and millions of tourists - could be affected.

"We have people coming to Orlando and Orange County from all over the world, every single day," she said. "Whether they are visiting the theme parks or coming for conventions or conferences, they're being exposed to all kinds of illnesses if our workers are going to work sick because they don't have access to earned sick time."

Florida, however, is one of 11 states that have taken action to prevent local governments from enacting their own laws regarding earned sick time.

Neufeld said Florida leaders took the pre-emptive action a year before voters in the Orlando area went to the polls in what turned out to a nonbinding - but telling - local referendum.

"It was actually on the ballot in Orange County last year, and voters overwhelmingly passed earned sick time - over 63 percent of the vote - in August of 2014," she said. "So, we know there's demand and interest and need across the state."

Recent polls indicate that the idea is gaining popularity nationally. According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 81 percent of respondents favor sick-leave legislation called for by President Obama and now being debated in Congress.

More information is online at firedupflorida.org. The report by Public Religion Research Institute is at publicreligion.org.

Phil Latzman/Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL