Monthly Archive for September, 2012

A Sad Day and a Hopeful Lesson in Orange County

Cross-posted from MomsRising.

Late yesterday, it became disappointingly clear that voters in Orange County will not see a proposal for earned sick time on their ballots in November. Despite the will of at least 46,000 Orange County voters and a broad coalition of workers, businesses and advocates who played by the rules, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and county commissioners ignored their duties and caved to special interests to keep citizens from being able to vote. This is the most blatant example I’ve seen of moneyed special interests using their clout to subvert the purest tool of citizen democracy: the right of citizens to petition the government.

As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said, “it is a sad day for democracy.”

But what happened in Orange County is not just worrisome and harmful for working families, businesses and the democratic process in Florida. What happened in Orange County is the latest example of a growing, far-reaching and coordinated attack led by big business special interests with unlimited financial resources and access.

Early on, the Florida corporate business lobby made taking down a popular earned sick time measure in Orange County a priority. Perhaps they were worried that momentum built through wins last year in Connecticut and Seattle (and before that in San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.) was coming their way. And perhaps that’s a silver lining in all this – it’s a testament to the strength of the nationwide movement to let workers earn paid sick days.

Through baseless yet extremely well-funded tactics, the Florida business lobby sought to systematically undermine democracy and keep voters from having the opportunity to approve a measure that would strengthen the local economy, protect public health and provide stability for working families. First they sued. When they lost in court, they went to the county commission and the mayor. Why? Because, if Orange County voters had the chance to weigh in, they just might have approved the measure – and that would’ve been unacceptable to the corporate interests who ignore the clear benefits of paid sick days laws in favor of job-killer rhetoric proven time and again to be false.

The truth is this: This powerful lobby has fought for decades against every major advance for workers and their families – from Social Security to minimum wage to the Americans with Disabilities Act. These special interests, which falsely claim to represent the interests of all employers, misconstrue the facts and ignore the significant and widespread benefits of paid sick days for businesses and the economy. They pit businesses against each other, play on myths that distract from the essence of the problems that working families face, and keep voters and legislators from carefully and honestly considering reasonable proposals.

There’s no question that this makes for a daunting road ahead as workers, advocates and enlightened businesses continue to advance paid sick days proposals at the local, state and federal levels. But it should give us hope. We are making progress, and we have the power of common sense and a growing public will behind us.

It may be a sad day in Orange County, but the fight for earned sick days there is not over. The Orange County earned sick time coalition will not give up. Paid sick days will prevail there and across the country.

Vicki Shabo is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

A Story of Deliberate Disregard for Democracy in Orange County

Cross-posted from MomsRising.

What is going on in Orange County, Florida?

For anyone paying attention to the effort to establish an earned sick day standard in the Sunshine State, this is a legitimate question. The events of the past few days have been confusing at best – and, quite simply, they defy reason and threaten to subvert democracy.

Let’s recap:

First, more than 43,000 Orange County voters pledged their support for putting an earned sick days proposal on the November 6th ballot. Soon after, that petition was certified – officially qualifying the measure for the November ballot.

In accordance with the county charter, the Orange County Commission had two options: adopt the proposal as an ordinance or refer it to the ballot.

But, just as the commission was slated to decide, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and county commissioners proposed an ill-conceived countermeasure to be placed on the ballot alongside the earned sick days proposal. If passed, the countermeasure would invalidate the earned sick days ordinance – and all other countywide employment laws related to employee benefits and protections. The county commission and the mayor got a lot of heat from the community for this, but they would not back down.

Still with me?

On Tuesday, the mayor and the county commission met to consider both measures.* For more than six hours, they heard compelling testimony in support of earned sick days from Orange County workers, residents, businesses and advocates. But, instead of listening and honoring the will of voters, the commissioners chose to delay consideration of the measure for a month to clarify its language – ensuring it won’t get on the November ballot because the printing deadline is next week.

The commission’s callous and subversive move was designed to deny voters the opportunity to approve a common sense proposal that would protect the county’s working families, public health and the local economy.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The Orange County earned sick time coalition immediately filed an emergency request for a hearing on the commission’s failure to either pass or put to a vote the earned sick time measure within a given timeframe – a mandatory duty according to the county’s charter. Now, a three-judge panel will determine whether commissioners will be required to follow the law by putting earned sick time on the ballot.

So, what is happening in Orange County? Deliberate disregard for democracy. But there’s still a chance at a happy ending. Workers, advocates and voters continue to call on the mayor and commissioners to let voters decide the fate of earned sick time in the county. Tell your family and friends in Orange County to take action today – before it’s too late.

Vicki Shabo is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

* Also on Tuesday, a judge threw out the organized business lobby’s lawsuit challenging the ballot language. But that’s another chapter in the story!


Hasty, Ill-Conceived Measure Threatens Workers in Orange County

Despite strong and growing public support for an earned sick days standard in Orange County, Florida, attacks on the proposed measure continue. And tomorrow, it could be the County Commission itself that undermines the will of voters and democracy.

More than 43,000 voters in Orange County pledged their support for putting an earned sick days proposal on the November ballot and, just last month, the measure was certified. Now, in a last-ditch effort to thwart the proposal, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and commissioners are pushing through a counter initiative that could nullify the measure even if voters approve it. It’s an ill-conceived effort that could have damaging effects.

Attempting to undermine the will of Orange County voters is inexcusable. But what makes the countermeasure especially dangerous is the long-lasting harm it could do to workers in the county. If passed, the measure would prevent any county ordinances that would impact employer-employee relations. And it’s being hastily rammed through – without the normal review that would enable commissioners to consider its full  repercussions.

Scott Maxwell from the Orlando Sentinel characterized what is at stake perfectly in a blog post this weekend. If the commission proceeds, he writes, “they will have shown blatant disregard for the county’s own set of checks and balances, plowing ahead before even commissioners themselves understood the ramifications of their actions. And they will have sent an unfortunate message that, when it comes to citizens vs. government in Orange County, it’s not a level playing field.”

Throughout the county, advocates and workers are calling on commissioners to fully consider the impact of the counter measure and stop it before it’s too late.

Let’s Remember the Many Ways Grandparents Support Their Families

Leticia Mederos, Vice President

Cross-posted from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Today is Grandparents Day, when we pause to honor and celebrate a generation that is making enormous contributions to our families and our country. It’s also a holiday that I just recently learned has an official flower with a striking name: the forget-me-not. Sadly, it got me thinking about how often grandparents as caregivers and breadwinners are forgotten in this country, notably in our public policies.

Grandparents today face significant – and increasing – work and family responsibilities. Nearly four in 10 grandparents in the United States are now responsible for the care of their grandchildren. And more than half of the seven million grandparents who live with their grandchildren are in the workforce.

Grandparents also need and depend on care from family members who have jobs. In fact, in 2009, more than five million unpaid family caregivers in the United States were caring for a grandparent or grandparent-in-law.

But despite this growing pressure on grandparents and their caregivers, under current federal law, neither grandparents who care for grandchildren nor grandchildren who care for grandparents can take job-protected time off to meet their caregiving needs. And it is a terrible and often devastating problem for families.

That’s why lawmakers at all levels need to prioritize and advance family friendly workplace policies that would support grandparents. At the federal level, there are already proposals in Congress that would help tremendously. The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act and the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act would expand access to unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to grandparents so that both working grandparents and employed family caregivers can take job-protected leave when caregiving needs arise.

But giving grandparents and their caregivers access to unpaid leave isn’t enough. These workers – and all workers – need access to paid time off in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security. And that’s why passing national paid sick days legislation like the Healthy Families Act and a paid family and medical leave insurance program are absolutely critical.

So, this Grandparents Day, let’s remember all that grandparents do, and urge our elected officials as well as candidates for office to stand up for the family friendly workplaces policies the nation needs. The forget-me-not may be the official flower of Grandparents Day, but it shouldn’t reflect the ways our policies neglect grandparents’ contributions and needs.

In Seattle, an Exciting New Reason to Celebrate this Labor Day

As of today, Seattle is the third city in the nation to guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days – and that means working families in the city can add paid sick days to their reasons to celebrate this Labor Day.

Last September, thanks to an unprecedented, collaborative effort on the part of workers, businesses and lawmakers in the city, the Seattle City Council passed a paid sick days standard. Soon after, the mayor signed it. And today, it officially took effect

Now, nearly 190,000 Seattle workers no longer have to choose between taking the time off they need to recover from common illnesses or care for a sick family member and their jobs. It is a historic day for Seattle and for workers across the country.

This groundbreaking victory adds to the growing support and momentum for paid sick days we’re seeing in New York City; Orange County, Florida; and more than 20 other states and cities across the country. Today is a great day – and just the beginning. We will continue to advance paid sick days until no worker has to suffer without them.

Happy Labor Day, and congratulations to the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce and all the workers, businesses and lawmakers who made this victory possible.