Florida Restaurant Workers Targeted in Expansion of Union Activities

By: Marianela Toledo | Posted: October 27, 2012 3:55 AM
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The latest battle brewing across Florida centers on controversial county ordinances that would require employers to offer paid sick time, a move that would increase costs for small businesses still hurting in this severe recession.

In Orlando, Citizens for a Greater Orange County collected enough signatures to have the question placed on the November ballot. If voters pass it, all businesses within Orange County with 15 or more employees must provide paid sick leave.

However, opponents, including the Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce, Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association and Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando, filed a complaint asking the Orange County Circuit Court for an injunction to stop the ballot initiative.

Miami-Dade County commissioners are set to decide on a similar proposed ordinance next month.

Unions and activist groups have rallied around the issue, but critics say this will increase burdensome regulations for small businesses.

At the federal and state levels, no laws require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees.

“We want this issue to be addressed in Tallahassee as a single statewide policy.”

“There are over 300 governments in Florida between cities and counties, and if we would have 300 different policies on this issue, that would be a nightmare,” said Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Florida. “We represent about 10,000 businesses around the state, and what they don’t want is a local ordinance about this issue. We want this issue to be addressed in Tallahassee as a single statewide policy.”

He added that a small restaurant owner in one town shouldn’t have different regulations from one 10 miles down the road, adding to business uncertainty and burdening small businesses.

If passed on Nov. 20, the Miami-Dade County ordinance would affect 45 percent of local workers and 88 percent of workers in the restaurant industry, which is the third-largest private sector business in the Miami-Dade region, directly employing over 70,000 workers, according to the Miami Herald.

Unlike Florida, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have laws that require certain employers to provide paid sick leave. In response to this law, some employers in San Francisco have cut vacation benefits to offset the increased costs associated with sick leave for full- and part-time employees, according to Bloomberg News.

The Orange County sick leave initiative is estimated to cost businesses between $69.2 million and $82.3 million each year, according to a study by William Seyfried, professor of economics at Rollins College in Winter Park.

Other key findings in his study point to a greater impact on small businesses, estimating that 40 percent of employees will lose similar benefits to pay for the measure, and 54 percent of businesses will see their annual profits reduced.

Florida Watchdog tried to reach the Greater Chamber of Commerce in Miami, but it said it is not ready to take a position on this issue at this time.

A report titled “Backed into the Corner,” released in August by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami and the Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, has been presented as the greatest evidence for why the measure should be adopted.

The report concludes that workers feel pressured to work while sick, afraid of not being paid during their absence.

“In this economy, we need to make sure that people can afford to stay home when they or a loved one are sick without fear that they’ll fall behind on bills or lose their job,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who introduced the bill, told the Huffington Post. “No working person in Miami-Dade should be forced to choose between their family’s economic security and their family’s health.”

Capitol reporter Will Patrick, of the James Madison Institute, a nonprofit free-market think thank based in Tallahassee, said there is sufficient cause for concern that labor organizations — led and financed by out-of-state groups — may be trying to maneuver around right-to-work laws and unionize Florida, one area at a time.

“One way that labor organizations and their political allies are maneuvering around such laws in Florida — soon to be the nation’s third most populous state — is through non-unionized activism and workforce centers,” he wrote in Capitol Vanguard.

“Jobs with Justice, Organize Now and the Restaurant Opportunities Center are just a few of the groups currently working a ground game in Florida to train and mobilize workers as labor activists, particularly in the restaurant and retailing industries.”

Contact Marianela Toledo at

Comments (2)

6:15AM OCT 27TH 2012
Funny how "conservatives" want small government when it comes to helping folks and doing good but want really big government when it comes to making sure the small folks stay small. Remember all that "tort reform" conservatives love so much. It is about making sure the folks have no recourse when business does bad.
M Carson
3:41PM DEC 31ST 2013
"Hurts small business "doesn't mention employee's.Seems to me that if there is a "free market" out there, if you can't afford to pay your employees for sick time there is someone out there who can and run the business successfully.If there truly is a market for your kind of food.Restaurateurs already pay their service staff less than minimum wage.Server's required tipshare pay hostess, busser and bartenders salary.Servers even pay the fee on credit card transactions. Opening a restaurant is risky business, but having worked for successful operations that make millions in profits it truly is appalling what they get away with.I am even required to pay if I order the wrong sandwich. (I accidentally ring in chicken instead of fish, for example).There is a lot of "side work" throughout the shift and an hours worth before and after, which I am not paid minimum wage.

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