Proposed Miami-Dade ordinance would require sick leave for employees

A proposed Dade ordinance would allow all employees to earn paid sick time, a benefit 45 percent of local workers and 88 percent of restaurant workers currently do not get.

10/18/2012 7:55 AM

10/18/2012 7:58 AM

In Miami-Dade County, many service workers punch a time clock despite having a cold or flu, back spasms or migraines. Without paid sick time, they can’t afford to stay home and lose wages — and possibly their jobs.

A proposed county ordinance that would require all employers to offer earned sick time could change that.

“In a community where tourism reigns supreme, it is important that we protect the workers who support one of our main sources of revenue,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who is sponsoring the ordinance and has asked that it be put on the commission agenda for preliminary approval on Nov. 20.

Jordan spoke Wednesday, at a rally on the plaza outside Miami-Dade’s Government Center, amid more than 30 service workers who waved colorful placards with such sayings as “No Sick Time = Public Health Risks.”

Brought together by a coalition of labor, community and faith leaders, the workers chanted “Paid Sick Days,” as the song Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, blared.

Mishell Warner, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 1363, representing support workers at Jackson Memorial Hospital, said 45 percent of workers in Miami-Dade do not earn paid sick days, including 88 percent of restaurant workers. The figures come from a study released this summer by ROC United, a public policy think tank.

“Latinos and women are the hardest hit,” she said.

The issue affects public health, because sick workers make others ill. And when a cold turns into pneumonia and the worker goes to the emergency room, it drives up the cost of healthcare, said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of SEIU Local 1991, representing doctors at nurses at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Mandating earned sick time is “the right thing to do for public health and for the economy,” she said.

Over the years, other U.S. cities, including San Francisco, have passed ordinances mandating paid sick time. A study conducted in San Francisco in February by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the actual cost of paid sick leave was just under 1 percent of wages, said Santiago Leon, employee benefits advisor with ACC Insurance Brokers and founding chairman of Miami-Dade County Worksite Wellness Committee.

So for a worker earning the Florida minimum wage of $7.67 an hour, the extra cost is less than 8 cents an hour, and for those who earn tips and make $4.65 an hour, the cost is less than a nickel, Leon said.

It’s too early to say how businesses will respond.

“We will review the language once it is presented,” said Lauren Searcy, spokeswoman for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association based in Tallahassee.

“Earned paid sick leave is not a handout. It’s just a matter of creating paid leave equality for our service industry workers,” Jordan said, at the conclusion of the rally. “Let’s make sure that our workers on the frontline working hard everyday for this community are able to use earned paid leave without fear of losing their jobs.”

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