1. Opinion

Editorial: Scott should stand with workers

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Published Jun. 10, 2013

If Gov. Rick Scott is positioning himself as pro-family and pro-women by supporting expanded Medicaid and vetoing a bill to eliminate permanent alimony, he should listen to Orlando-area mothers urging him to veto a bill that harms working families. The measure, HB 655, would prevent local governments from requiring local private employers to provide paid sick leave and other job-related benefits. Scott, who has two weeks to act on the bill, could demonstrate his sincerity in helping working families by vetoing it.

The women delivered 11,000 petitions to Scott last week, wheeling them in using two baby strollers and a red wagon, to demonstrate what is at stake. Fifty organizations representing nearly 2 million Floridians also have signed a letter to Scott urging a veto. An estimated 40 percent of private sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers do not receive earned sick days. Retail clerks, restaurant servers and child care workers without this benefit must come to work sick or leave a sick child at home to avoid losing money and possibly their job. The United States is the only advanced economy that doesn't guarantee paid sick days to private sector workers.

The business community, including Walt Disney Co. and Darden Restaurants, is backing the bill that pre-empts local efforts to require a range of private sector benefits including sick leave, vacation time, health coverage, holidays and retirement benefits. But Scott should consider the flip side: When government sets reasonable minimum conditions for work, everyone benefits, including employees, their children and businesses that want to be fair to workers but would otherwise face competitive pressures.

Scott should also consider that the impetus behind this bill is a cynical effort to thwart the will of voters. House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, sponsored it specifically to scuttle a 2014 court-ordered voter referendum in Orange County that would ask whether many employers should be required to provide earned sick days. The Orange County Commission improperly kept it from the ballot last November after 50,000 local citizens had signed a petition to bring the issue to a vote.

Opponents say that there shouldn't be a patchwork of labor rules in different regions of the state. But at the heart of local control is cities and counties responding to direction from residents. A statewide task force on employer-sponsored benefits would be created by the bill to report back to lawmakers in early 2014. A better approach would be to allow local governments to experiment with more progressive labor policies and measure the economic impact. A study of Connecticut's statewide paid sick leave requirements found that increases in worker productivity outweighed the relatively small cost to business.

Scott has until June 25 to act on the measure. He should reject this effort on the part of powerful special interests to keep voters from having a say on reasonable job benefits. It would send a strong message that the governor cares about local control and the state's working families.