Earlier this week, the Earned Sick Days campaign for Orange County, being led by Citizens for a Greater Orange County, failed to reach an arbitrary deadline issued by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. However, Jacobs has backtracked quickly and has openly said the deadline is now fluid. This means the coalition fighting for worker rights in Orlando never stopped collecting signatures.
As of 5pm on Thursday, August 9, the coalition was still short by about 2,500 petitions. The group, led by Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Organize Now, Unite Here, NAACP and many others, still needs signatures from specific County Commission districts. Law states that initiatives must collect 43,605 valid petitions and at least 7% of registered voters’ signatures in each County Commission district. The coalition’s biggest shortfall is currently Commission District 1 and they are short by just a few hundred votes in two other districts.
Jacobs’ move is her latest attempt to deflect this public policy issue with strong community support to Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, who happens to be up for re-election this year. Cowles is trying to print the longest Orange County ballot in recent years around August 21st. This would allow for proper testing of ballots and preparation for absentee voting. To include Earned Sick Days, Cowles needs direction from the County Commission. But there’s a bit of process at play.
Once all the needed petitions are validated by the Supervisor’s office, the County Commission needs to agenda the item, hold a hearing on the issue and either pass it as an ordinance or send it to the ballot for voters to decide. The next meeting would be August 28th – after Cowles’ planned timeline to print ballots – and Jacobs made clear she’ll do whatever Cowles’ can do, meaning she’s pushing responsibility to Cowles to explain the timeline.
So similar to the recent Citrus Bowl “deal,” Jacobs prefers to punt rather than take a stand and risk shaking her high popularity across the county while also attempting to avoid gaining new critics. But this could be the opening working families in Orange County need to have a chance to voice their opinion in November and create their own protections in the workplace. In these final days of collecting signatures, it will be interesting to see if the Chamber of Commerce, who is filing a lawsuit against the measure and is openly preparing a multi-million dollar business campaign against Sick Days, will also attempt to apply pressure to Mayor Jacobs or Supervisor Cowles.
But even for them and all their big business money, it’s hard to stop the will of the people – and in an election year, it’s even harder to be seen as trying to block the will of the people.