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COLUMN

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.


But positions have been taken by industry leaders.

"Employees who are sick should absolutely let their employer know and discuss options on scheduling," Scott DeFife, executive vice president for policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Association, told NPR in an email. "Restaurants typically offer flexible work schedules and hours that best meet the needs of their workplace and their employees, with the ability to switch or pick up shifts."

And in a December 2011 op-ed for CNN's website, Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis Jr. said he felt maligned by pro-employee policies (including the Affordable Care Act), saying, "The list also includes measures such as new mandatory paid-leave provisions that require us to change the way we accommodate employees who need to take time off when they are ill and even more unrealistic requirements regarding employee meal and rest breaks that, in California, for example, force our employees to take breaks in the middle of serving lunch or dinner." Darden, it should be noted, repeatedly tops the list of employee-offending restaurants in the national earned sick-time campaigns. Calls to Darden for comment on this issue were not returned as of press time.

Porta says that she expects the opposition to heat up as the local initiative becomes more prevalent. Already, she says, Darden has been snooping around looking to see which candidates are accepting petitions at campaign events. Also, local progressive activist Lisa Murano confirms that she's received a phone poll on the issue from a Texas area code that identified the poll as coming from Voter Consumer Research. The questions were largely skewed toward employer interests, she says.

But for Porta, the opposition isn't so much of a threat. She hopes to sit down with business interests and lay out the actual costs and intentions of implementation. There's nothing punitive in the ordinance beyond the employee's right to sue in a right-to-work state, for instance. She's just trying to level the playing field.

"There's this whole approach in Orlando," Porta says. "We want to build a city of people that want to live, work and play. This is a living standard. This is about how we are bettering our community at the end of the day and making sure that people are treated appropriately."

And just as we wind up our conversation at a popular local eatery, Porta looks up at our waiter and asks, "Do you get any kind of earned sick time? Can you call out?"

"We do not," our waiter grins, sheepishly. "No way."

SICK FIGURES

Some key statistics
cited in
this story

46%
Orange County workers who receive earned or paid sick time at their jobs

76.2%
Female working parents aged 18 to 54 in the U.S. who received paid leave in 2002, according to Urban Institute study

83.5%
Male working parents who received paid leave in the same study

45%
Americans living below the 100% level of poverty in 2002 who had access to paid leave

13.5%
U.S. food workers who earn a living wage

20%
Estimated percentage of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to sick workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control

2 out of 3
Portion of employers in San Francisco who support that city's first-in-the-nation sick time ordinance

6 out of 7
Portion of businesses that reported no detriment to profitability from the San Francisco ordinance

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