Florida Governor Rick Scott is under pressure from Florida moms to veto a bill that would deliver a "kill-shot" to local efforts to guarantee paid sick days for workers. The legislation, which can be traced back the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is backed by major corporate players with questionable labor records, including Disney.
In April, the Florida legislature passed a corporate-backed bill to preempt local paid sick day laws, largely in response to a small-d democratic effort in Orange County to have residents vote on the issue. More than 50,000 Orange County voters signed petitions to place a paid sick day measure on the ballot, which would be effectively blocked if Governor Scott signs the law.
"A veto from him would be completely consistent with the governor's belief in letting local governments decide," said Stephanie Porta, executive director of Organize Now, a group leading the Florida sick days campaign.
MomsRising Asks Gov. Scott, Disney to Support Healthy Families
An estimated forty percent of workers cannot take sick days without losing wages or possibly their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers who do not have access to paid sick days are one-and-a-half times more likely to go to work sick with a contagious illness, putting their co-workers and customers at risk.
As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, paid sick day preemption bills have spread across the country after legislation that passed in Wisconsin was shared at an August 2011 ALEC meeting. The legislation in Florida was sponsored in the House and Senate by two ALEC members, House Majority Leader Steve Precourt and Sen. David Simmons.
Paid sick days are particularly important for mothers: without paid leave, they not only have a difficult time staying home when they are sick, but have an even harder time caring for their sick children.
On Mother's Day, Organize Now released a video telling Gov. Scott that "Florida moms want one gift this Mother's Day:" to veto the paid sick days preemption bill, HB 655.
Disney has also emerged as a key target for the group MomsRising. The Disney World theme park is in Florida, and the corporation has been a major opponent of the paid sick days effort and a primary supporter of the preemption legislation. Only about half of Disney's employees have paid sick days. Orange County Commissioners were caught discussing how they could stall the paid sick days petition with lobbyists for Disney and other corporations, and Disney reportedly helped draft the state preemption legislation.
After the bill passed the legislature in April, MomsRising collected 6,000 signatures urging Disney to support healthy workers -- but they were blocked from delivering the petition.
"Parents get how important access to earned sick time is and that's why we want Disney to stop working to block earned sick time initiatives in Florida," said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising.
Disney's Questionable Labor Record
Disney's opposition to paid sick days falls into a long line of questionable labor practices, both domestically and abroad.
The Florida-based Disney World has long fought with its employees over wages and benefits, with workers in the documentary "Mouse Trapped 2010" claiming to rely on church handouts to make ends meet. In 2010, the U.S. Labor Department recovered over $433,000 in unpaid wages owed to Disney employees in Florida.
Internationally, Disney products were reportedly produced in a Bangladeshi factory that burnt down last year, killing more than 100 workers; after the more recent Bangladeshi factory collapse, Disney announced it would be pulling out of the country, prompting criticism that they abandoned workers rather than taking steps to improve conditions. Last year, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights issued a report about dangerous conditions at a factory in China that produced Disney's toys, including an accusation that it forced workers to work in a "fire trap." These accusations are nothing new: in 1996, a Congressional committee was told that foreign workers producing Disney products were "on the edge of starvation."
Will Governor Scott stand with Mickey Mouse, or with Florida moms and the 80 percent of state residents who support paid sick days?