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Sick of it

Orange County activists race against time to push an earned sick-time ordinance

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Members of Organize Now and Citizens for a Greater Orange County make some noise June 30 in downtown Orlando.

That strategy can be a little confusing, according to Cowles, who is struggling to keep up with the fast-approaching primary and general election season.

"They need more than 43,000 in legitimate, verified signatures to even take it to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners," he says. "The [county] charter says, interestingly enough, that the BCC can accept the petitions and vote on the ordinance or they can vote to send it to the voters and let the voters decide [in November]."

But Cowles also says that the sheer size of the ballot this year – three separate ballots for 650,000 voters – could make things difficult. Also, he's never seen a grass-roots ballot campaign succeed.

Regardless, the campaign moves on. As of June 27, the campaign has presented 26,574 petitions, though not all have been verified yet. Porta says that the group has employed 70 people to knock on doors and attend events, each receiving an average of $11 an hour (after a $9-an-hour probationary period). And, yes, they do earn sick time.

The initiative has received public endorsements from a broad swath of institutions such as Equality Florida and the NAACP. So far, according to Porta, the response has been relatively positive from both city and county officials (the group has met with Orange County commissioners Scott Boyd and Ted Edwards), though she doesn't expect the county commissioners to pass the ordinance outright.

"The reality is, we're not asking them to support this issue, because it's up to the voters," she says. "But they have to make the vote to put it on the ballot. … I don't think they're taking us seriously, honestly. I don't think they think it's going to happen, so I don't think they're putting any effort into thinking about it."

Who will be thinking about it, she suspects, are industry leaders such as Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, parent company of Red Lobster and the Olive Garden, and lobbying groups like the National Restaurant Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, to name a few.

Though the Florida Retail Federation has yet to take a "formal position" on the ballot campaign, the organization's director of communications, John Fleming, is already ringing the bells of opposition.

"We would definitely be in a position to educate as to what some of the effects would be. I can predict that there would be a cost to employers. … A lot of businesses have had to cut their expenses just to provide," he says.

Meanwhile, Sue Hensley, senior vice president of public affairs communications for the National Restaurant Association, directed inquiries to the organization's local affiliate, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. That group's communications representative, Lauren Searcy, at first told us, "We've been talking about it all week." When pressed for a position, she later said this: "Typically we would coordinate with the National Restaurant Association. We will continue to monitor the situation, but we are not ready to take a position on it."

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