The flu epidemic that struck the United States this winter has renewed the conversation about the importance of paid sick days for workers, eliciting different reactions from different state governments. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency using executive orders to change state laws in order to help those in need and missing work. Other changes include allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines to patients six months to 18 years old. Previously, immunizations had been for those 18 and older only.
In Florida, however, a very different approach is being implemented. They are not only pre-emptively blocking paid sick days legislation from getting to the voters, they’re making it their top priority. Following the lead of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and bowing to business interests like top wage thieves Darden Resturaunts and Walt Disney World Florida, Republicans are looking to make sure mandatory paid sick day laws such as one that has been in the works for Orange County do not come to fruition.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that one of its top legislative priorities this year would be blocking local governments from adopting paid sick-time measures such as the one pending in Orange County.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, Chamber President Mark Wilson said his powerful business group wants a law that would ban cities and counties from creating varying paid-sick-leave rules across the state.
The passage of local sick-time laws would, Wilson said, “make pockets of Florida very uncompetitive.”
Following familiar talking points, conservatives have labeled the proposed laws as a hindrance that will make businesses “uncompetitive.” Right. Because an entire building of infected workers is the most competitive workforce money can underpay.
Research into sick day policy proves the value of laws enabling them, according to Talking Points Memo:
…the complaints from businesses about paid sick days making Florida “uncompetitive” ring hollow. As Jane Farrell and Joanna Ventnor noted, “A study of Connecticut’s policy mandating five days of sick leave found that full use of this leave would cost an employer only 0.4 percent of their sales revenue on average. Without paid sick days, employees come to work unhealthy, costing employers $160 billion per year due to lower productivity levels.”
The current face of horrible pro-business culture regarding this issue may rest on Florida’s shoulders but the issue is one that effects American workers across area and industry.
40 percent of private sector workers, 79 percent of food workers, and 80 percent of low-income workers have no paid sick days. The U.S. is alone in the developed world in not mandating some sort of paid sick leave for workers.
Florida’s aforementioned Orange County law had enough signatures to make the November 2012 ballot but was tangled up in court — in part thanks to the Chamber of Commerce. As the issue gains public momentum the state’s top lobbyists and politicians are throwing down the obstructionist gauntlet. According to Stephanie Porta, executive director of Organize Now,
“It’s not surprising that the chamber wants to deny 50,000 people the right to vote on an issue that they can legally petition their government on. Just as the chamber will be counting votes on this disenfranchising bill, we will as well.”
Speaking to News 4 in Jacksonville, labor and employment attorney Bob Riegel said,
“In Florida and in the overwhelming part of the nation, there’s no right to paid sick leave. You can use sick leave that’s provided by the employer if there is paid sick leave. You can use paid vacation in some situations.”
As he notes, this does not stop contagious people from coming to work:
Is there an arrangement where you can come in and work and be isolated in a cubicle or an office,” Riegel said. “Or something where even if you may be contagious, you can get your work done and not expose the whole group.”
A study done in 2011 by the American Journal of Public Health found a lack of sick time helped spread roughly 5 million cases of flu-like illness during the 2009 swine flu outbreak. This season you just might have Florida to thank for your sore throats and sniffles.