Sick Days, Neurotic Nights: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Orange County Commission

How to screw over your constituents for your corporate friend’s profit


A citizen’s briefing on Orange County’s Earned Sick Time Struggle


As some of our readership may be aware, there has been something of a kerfuffle in regards to a citizen led initiative to push for earned sick time in Orange county, Florida. To those who are NOT aware, an assortment of local residents and the activist powerhouse that is Organize Now have been attempting to place a provision on the ballot which, if passed would require businesses in Orange county to provide a measure of paid sick time for their employees should they so require it. As it stands workers in the county, particularly those in the oft miserly and inhospitable tourism and hospitality industry, are at the whim of their employment overlords least they contract the sick. Given that most people think that businesses who can afford to pay for their hard working employees when they happen to contract an illness, should do that and not be total dicks, the citizen activists of central Florida managed to quickly collect the requisite 50,000 petition signatures needed to place the provision on this year’s ballot.

Orlando Weekly cover showing Organize Now pushing for earned sick timeExcept that is exactly what will NOT happen. Apparently there are members of the “business community” (read: lobbyists for Darden restaurants, Disney, and the creatures from the Chamber of Commerce) who think that providing earned sick leave to their employees would EXPLODEZ TEH ECONOMY. These fine, upstanding assholes were ready to fight tooth and nail to ensure that the rabble quit their unseemly protest and immediately return to the theme park mines and eateries regardless of whether they were about to collapse from fever or pass a kidney stone on space mountain. They were ready for the worst, but as luck would have it their buddies on the board of the Orange County Commission were willing and able to handle all the dirty work for them.

When presented with the petitions the Commission were bound by their charter to place the provision on the ballot. However, there was a bit of an issue, namely the Commission really didn’t want to do that. The hearing on the earned sick time provision, by the lovely coincidences of life, came to pass on September 11th with 70 people coming out to urge the commission to do the right thing and place the provision on the ballot like they were supposed to. A few members of the “business community” were there too. When it came time to speak these be-suited defenders of Capitalism declared, to a man, that despite the fact that their businesses were struggling they managed to charitably provide earned sick time for their employees. However, despite that they could do this despite the economic downturn IF the county forced larger businesses to provide earned sick time it would create a magical cloud of uncertainty and keep their Orange county businesses out of Orange county just like the previous raise in the minimum wage did.

However before I ramble on any further, what exactly was in this provision to be voted on by the people of Orange County? Essentially the measure would have potentially provided 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 37 hours worked, with a maximum of 56 hours available per year (if the business already pays more, they won’t be forced to pay less). The worker would be required to provide documentation from a health care professional if they need to miss 3 or more consecutive days of work. The worker could use that sick leave to assist family members who were sick or injured and needed assistance. Also, and perhaps most importantly for the sake of argument, the ordinance would only apply to businesses with more than 15 employees. So despite what the lobbyists for Darden and Disney would have you believe, this measure was not in any way going to harm all those cute little mom and pop businesses that the creatures from the Chamber of Commerce love so much (which is not at all). You can find the full text of the proposed ordinance on the very petitions used to place the measure on the ballot here.

Residents of Orange County preparing to stand up to their Commissioners.

During the meeting on September 11th, the commissioners stated that the measure was confusing and that voters did not know what they were voting for. This is despite the fact that Vice Mayor Jennifer Thompson quickly wrote up a sloppy counter amendment to be placed on the ballot that would require that the Orange County commission be barred from regulating “employee-employer relations”. For some reason, this proposal was not held to the same standard that the earned sick time proposal was. After a marathon session, four of the seven commissioners (Fred “Old Man” Brummer, Jennifer Thompson, John “Daddy’s Boy” Martinez, and Scott Boyd) voted to delay the measure so that it would be unable to be placed on the 2012 ballot, despite what 50,000 Orange county residents may want and the OCC charter demands.

The Case for Earned Sick Time

Let’s be clear on one thing, the people whom are labelled as “job creators”, those assorted CEO’s and upper-level management, do not create jobs. Ever. Those described with this Orwellian title are more aptly described as gatekeepers to jobs, often restricting useful production for the sake of personal profit. The people who create jobs are the people who actually do them. One of the most fundamental problems with our capitalist system is that those who do not labor are given dictatorial control over those who actually do labor, and as such decide what we produce, and what policies we take as a nation (such as not providing earned sick leave).

The reason that the campaign is called the “Earned Sick Time” campaign, is because workers are the ones who earned the right to rest when injured or sick because they are the engine of our economy. Also despite what commissioners may think, they also have the right to take care of injured or sick family members without having to worry about being fired or going hungry. While Mayor Jacobs with her $100,000+ salary might not have to worry about such things, a minimum wage worker for Disney does. Earned sick time is a small step towards a more rational and just economic system where labor is controlled in a democratic fashion for the benefit of all.

This fight is also a fine example of how our ruling class will use capitalist concerns to trump the democratic will of the people. One of the major arguments that Mayor Jacobs, the commission, and the chamber have made is that if earned sick time passes, employers might be dissuaded from coming to Orange county. This shouldn’t be a concern, instead this should be welcomed! Do we really want to set up our public policy towards miserly plutocrats who cannot be bothered to consider the health of the people who make them their profits? Scaring off these rogues just means more opportunity for more just businesses to expand at their expense.

The day that Democracy died in Orange County.

What Now?

The commissioners who voted to stall the measure past the required deadline did so for blatantly political reasons. They realize that the measure is popular amongst an electorate with a high percentage slaving under lousy paying jobs with little protection under the auspices of the Mouse and other large service industries. Furthermore, the highest turnout is almost inevitably during presidential elections and if earned sick time were on the ballot, us proles would certainly vote for it. HOWEVER, if the measure was moved to a midterm or special election where the turnout is more skewed towards older, more affluent voters there is less chance that this ballot would pass. It would also give the commission more time to fight alongside their chamber of commerce allies to ensure that the bill is opposed with the full weight of the corporate class and hopefully, hopefully, people would lose interest.

Given that the deadline for printing provisional ballots has passed there is virtually no chance that the measure will be on the 2012 ballot. Yet if the creatures from the Chamber of Commerce think that this will die a quiet death, they appear to have been mistaken. Organize Now members and their community allies have been keeping media pressure on the commission by being a constant presence at Orange County Commission meetings and by pushing for information that has led to what this publication shall refer to as “textgate” (because all political scandals post-Nixion must have the “gate” suffix appended to them, it’s the law). However, this is tough work and needs the support of the majority of Orange county that wants to hold businesses accountable to basic standards of decency.

What can you do, well you can…


Community Members and Occupy Orlando Join Forces to Oppose the Appointment of Former Senator’s Son

December 19th, 2011; Downtown Orlando – John Martinez, son of former U.S. Senator and one time Mayor of Orange County Mel Martinez was sworn in today at the Orange County Administration building. Mr. J. Martinez was appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last week to replace interim district 3 Commissioner Lui Damiani. Mr. Damiani was appointed by Gov. Crist following the suspension of Commissioner Mildred Fernandez after she was arrested for accepting illegal campaign contributions and bribes to expedite building projects in her district. The normally placid ceremony of swearing in a county commissioner was interrupted by residents of district 3 and a contingent of activists from Occupy Orlando.

Members of both groups spoke to the press starting at noon regarding their concerns about the appointment of the former Senator’s son. The assembled residents were upset about what they view as the appointee’s lack of connection to the district, its largely Hispanic population, and concerns of political cronyism playing a role in the nomination of Mr. J Martinez. “He doesn’t even live in the district”, said Armando Ramirez, a former candidate for Osceola County Commission District 2, “People from the community are angry because the governor directly picked him without their consent and they believe that Mel Martinez used his influence as a former senator and orange county chairman to advance his son’s political career”.

Demonstrators from Occupy Orlando and Orange County District 3

Demonstrators from Orange County District 3 and Occupy Orlando converge on the county administration before the signing in ceremony

The charge of political cronyism particularly resonated to members of the local occupation movement who are currently in their 65th day of occupation, now headquartered in nearby Orlando city hall. Several activists from Occupy Orlando broke off from a nearby dirge march, mourning the death of the Bill of Rights at the hands of post-9/11 legislation (specifically focusing on recent legislation such as provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act), to stand in solidarity with the community members. Former chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, Doug Head spoke to some of the common concerns of both groups, “This swearing in ceremony was symbolic of the continued manipulation of the Hispanic community by the 1%. There are a lot of Cuban Americans over the years who have benefited enormously from their access to government and power in government.” Nearly 40% of District 3 self-identifies as Hispanic, and the large community of Puerto Rican immigrants feels underrepresented compared to their Cuban neighbors, sentiments which were clearly on display today.

Mel and John Martinez

Former Senator Mel Martinez (right) and his son John Martinez

John Martinez is a 30 year old attorney and vice-president of Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc a company that specializes in public finance. Mr. J. Martinez’s community involvement has been limited to serving on community boards, most notably the Central Florida YMCA Metropolitan Board of Directors where he has served alongside his uncle Ralph Martinez since 2007. Gov. Scott and Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs both deny that his powerful political ties played any role in his appointment with a spokeswoman from the governor’s office stating, “John’s resume and qualifications speak for itself.” Current Orange county mayor Teresa Jacobs defended the governor’s appointment noting, “Gov. Scott’s choice of John Martinez who has agreed not to seek election during the 2012 cycle. This demonstrates the Governor’s commitment to responsible leadership while ensuring a fair and level playing field in this upcoming election.”

Mr. J. Martinez has declared that he will continue to work part time at Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc while assuming the full time position of Orange County Commissioner, a move that could potentially escalate tensions between the new Commissioner and dissatisfied residents given the firm’s focus on public finance and the residents’ view that Mr. J. Martinez benefits from inherited insider contacts. The newly appointed Commissioner is not required to fill out a financial disclosure form until July of 2012.