1. Opinion

Editorial: Power grab hurts lower-wage workers

Published Apr. 23, 2013

Local control is about to be seriously eroded by Republican legislators who would interfere with efforts by Florida's cities and counties to help low-wage workers. The Senate may vote as early as Thursday to prevent local governments from granting private sector workers paid sick leave, which the House already has approved. Local governments ought to be able to help their residents without interference by state lawmakers doing the Florida Chamber of Commerce's bidding.

About 40 percent of private sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers do not receive paid sick days. That forces retail clerks, child care workers, restaurant servers and others to come to work sick or lose money. Contrary to the claims of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, businesses benefit from paid sick leave requirements. Increases in worker productivity outweigh the relatively small costs, according to a study of Connecticut's statewide paid sick leave requirements.

In Florida, a fight over the issue is centered in Orange County. After a group collected 50,000 signatures to put an earned sick time measure on the ballot, the county commission used underhanded tactics to prevent it from coming before voters last November. A panel of judges found that the commissioners violated the county charter and ordered the measure to be placed on the ballot in 2014.

Now Republican state lawmakers from the region want to bar that vote entirely. Measures sponsored by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would pre-empt local ordinances across the state that provide workers with certain on-the-job benefits.

Simmons' bill, SB 726, would prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide employees with paid sick leave and other family and medical leave benefits. It would also create a statewide task force to study the issue, with members chosen by the Republican leadership of the House and Senate. Don't expect an objective review.

The House-passed HB 655 is even worse than Simmons' bill. It outlaws all local requirements that say employers must provide certain employment benefits and eliminates living wage standards that local governments set with their own vendors.

Counties and cities no longer could require employees of contractors be paid above the state or federal minimum wage. This would pre-empt laws in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and in cities such as Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville.

Precourt wants Tallahassee to trash a Miami-Dade County program that has run successfully for 14 years, providing lower-wage workers a better life so they are less reliant on public services and charity.

It's a familiar story. Special interests that lose at the local level go to Tallahassee and pressure a compliant Legislature to see things their way. These two bills would prevent local governments and voters from embracing reasonable job benefits such as paid sick leave. Senators who support local control and a productive work force should reject this power play.


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