Does ALEC Want You to Work Even if You’re Sick?

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On Friday, June 14, Governor Rick Scott struck a double blow when he signed into law a bill suppressing “living wage” and paid sick-leave policies for Florida workers. While Gov. Scott’s negative opinion of government-sponsored health care and state taxes remain no secret in Florida, what’s less known is that a national group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is behind the effort to place this latest anti-worker bill into the governor’s hands. 

Workers Maria Gaitan, left, and Ana Lopez, right, assemble burritos at a Boloco restaurant. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Workers Maria Gaitan, left, and Ana Lopez, right, assemble burritos at a Boloco restaurant. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

ALEC is an organization made up of state legislators and private-sector members who come together to promote corporate friendly legislation. While the group purports to exist for “educational” purposes and claims to do no lobbying, ALEC has come under scrutiny for its “model legislation” — bills crafted to reflect the special interests of ALEC’s corporate members, that then frequently find their way into the statehouses of ALEC’s legislative members. So-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, discriminatory voter ID requirements and anti-union “right to work” laws are just a few of the policies cultivated by ALEC.

Florida House Bill 655 clearly borrows from an ALEC model bill, the “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act,” which seeks to repeal or prohibit any “living wage” mandates or ordinances set by local city and town councils.

But ALEC manages to exert major ideological influence even beyond its own model legislation. The new Florida bill is one of a number of preemption laws to have cropped up in state after state since 2011.  That’s no coincidence. The same year, Wisconsin passed the country’s first anti-paid sick-leave law. According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Mary Bottari and Brendan Fischer, who have tracked ALEC extensively over the past few years, the Wisconsin bill was distributed to ALEC members during a 2011 conference in New Orleans, where it was the sole point of discussion during a meeting of ALEC’s Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee. (The ALEC subcommittee was co-chaired at that time by YUM! Brands, Inc., the company that owns Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell.)

Florida House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando on the floor of the House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Florida House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando on the floor of the House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

It didn’t take long for the bill to make its way south. Florida Representative Steve Precourt — a confirmed ALEC member who, according to Bottari and Fischer, was present at the 2011 New Orleans meeting — introduced his Wisconsin-inspired preemption measure into the House this past March, just as two Florida counties — Miami-Dade and Orange — were considering their own paid sick-leave policies. (Thanks to the governor’s John Hancock on the statewide bill last week, these local considerations are now moot.) According to Senator David Simmons, who sponsored the same bill in the Senate, Precourt’s bill “is critical for the economic integrity of this state. We cannot have a patchwork of local governments impose upon private employers a set of requirements for employee benefits.”

But what about a worker’s integrity? Ring of Fire, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s liberal talk-radio program, lambasted the new Florida law. “This bill is another way for companies to attack low-wage workers who, already, aren’t guaranteed the best benefits,” wrote Joshua De Leon on Ring of Fire’s website. “The companies that employ these workers are able to cut labor hours at its [sic] own discretion.” But talk — and talk radio — is cheap when compared to the corporate interests poised to benefit from the new legislation. According to De Leon, companies supporting the bill “think that making paid sick leave unavailable to workers will somehow save them money on labor costs.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney World and Darden Restaurants (a former ALEC member) were among the bill’s supporters. The Orlando Sentinel reported that a “host of business leaders” oppose paid sick-leave policies, saying they “would be expensive and ‘kill’ jobs.”

But there is an impressive set of data to suggest otherwise. When San Francisco implemented a paid sick-leave law in 2007, the city experienced a major increase in employment. A study conducted by the Drum Major Institute, a nonprofit progressive think tank, concluded that “San Francisco experienced stronger employment growth than neighboring counties from December 2006 to December 2008 in the industries that are most affected by paid sick leave: retail, leisure and hospitality, and accommodation and food services.” According to the same study: “Employment remains stronger in San Francisco, the first city in the country to implement a paid sick-leave law… than in neighboring counties without such a law.” Perhaps paid sick leave and “economic integrity” aren’t mutually exclusive after all.

The Center for American Progress reached the same conclusion. Without paid sick days, the Center argues, “employees come to work unhealthy, costing employers $160 billion per year due to lower productivity levels.” The study concluded that women and minorities suffer most from such policies, and that workers without access to paid sick leave are more likely to come to work contagious — endangering their coworkers and, by extension, the overall productivity of their company.

Florida’s workers fought hard to prevent the preemption law from passing. Florida State University’s WFSU reported that thousands of petitions from across the state landed on Governor Scott’s desk, carried to the capitol by a group of women pushing baby carriages. But the sight of all those mothers — who at some point will almost certainly be forced to choose between working or staying home with their sick children — did nothing to dissuade the governor’s signature.

The ALEC agenda, it seems, has prevailed once again. ALEC members may be wise to carry some Purell with them next time they’re being waited on at a conference in the great state of Florida.

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  • rain

    how do we get something powerful going against Alec like is happening with Monsanto?

  • steph

    You must be joking. Do you live in Florida ?

    ” but those in the majority, who would not, should not have to pay a
    price. A great resource for unemployed people in Florida is granted
    dot com. They have over 100,000 job listed in Florida with reputable
    companies with great benefits.”

  • Pattio

    The United States of ALEC…. should make us all call in sick.

  • Hildigunnur Rúnarsdóttir

    women pushing baby carriages – might be needing sick leave. Uh how shortsighted can you get? In less than 20 years you NEED those children!

  • Anonymous

    alec and its cronnies are only interested in setting back the American worker, citizen to the 19th century. If these wrongs are not stopped and corrected, indebtured servitued shall be our job title!!!!

  • Scott TheTechguy

    Why is it okay to take sick pay away from poor workers but NOT okay to take it away from CEOs? WHY?!?!?

  • Tracy Queen

    And this is backed by the party who is supposed to be “for family” – but with this law a parent will have to choose between the pay to feed that child, or staying home to care for it, & without family or friends able to help, there is no choice. Modern schools & daycares will not allow you to send your sick child to their facilities. So no pay sick days for those already on a short leash from a poor paying job, continues the strangle hold on these workers & increases their dependance on things like food stamps & medical assistance- other policies this same party would like to do away with. I agree that a person should work & a helping hand should not be a hand out. But at the same time, a society is judged by how we treat our most defenseless & helpless members. Forcing more & more people who do work & are trying to add to the economical success of the entire country into greater poverty & struggle is not the way to do it.

  • jan

    Unfortunately, yes. ALEC is the legislative action machine for the corporations. I might add I suspect being expected to work while sick is starting to spread up into jobs where people who do have benefits like vacations and paid sick days may start finding their paid sick day benefits are paper based only unless they’re sick for an extended period of time. They may find they are expected to take vacation days for the occasional sick day.

  • dsgstd

    best bet right now? get the hell out! when you hear a train coming get off the track.

  • dsgstd

    its 1984 brothers and sisters. 1984. Someone asked” what can we do agqainst all the power and money trying to crush us like roaches?” Well we can all do our part by not treating each other like crap. As long as there is suspicion, fear and prejudice they win. Remember the adage”Divide and conquer” Culture war is tearing us apart. Live and let live. Move to ammend. GO and sign the petition but dont stop there. Get involved, get informed

  • Betty Chapman Paola

    Would you like to sign this petition?.

  • Teri

    Laura, your article was interesting until your last sentence threatening the ALEC members. Encouraging your allies to do bodily harm to the people you disagree with is irresponsible.

  • andre_99301

    I don’t think there was any threat of bodily harm in Laura’s close. It’s a valid assumption that ALEC-inspired laws negating paid sick leave will mean that restaurant workers will be more likely to come to work, and handle your food, while they’re sick since they can’t afford the unpaid time off.

  • Anonymous

    Florida House Bill 655 clearly borrows from an ALEC model bill, the “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act,” which seeks to repeal or prohibit any “living wage” mandates or ordinances set by local city and town councils.

    The Republican’s have been with each turn at the helm have been advancing more powerful government behind the lie of fighting for smaller government. Of course the dangerous fallacy lies in the notion that smaller means less powerful. Preempting local jurisdictions to favor the State’s Aristocracy shouldn’t be surprising since State governments in general have fallen to the Aristocracy.

  • Teri

    I see.

  • Anonymous

    Smaller government? The incalculable costs that have been imposed by the immense growth of security agencies established to protect us, keep us safe from “terrorists” is ludicrous. And that doesn’t count the “private” contract militias that are burrowing like termites into the governmental infrastructure.
    Remind you of Germany in the 1930’s?

  • Anonymous

    Indeed it does… I wonder how many know that Hitler and the Nazi’s didn’t come to power without the support of the Conservative members of the German Corporate Aristocracy, which desired an end to the republic and a return to an authoritarian government that would restore Germany to glory and bring back their old privileges.

    Sounds eerily the same as the goal of a political faction that is not progressive, but regressive.

  • Robert Kavanaugh

    Then, isn’t the issue really higher salaries?

  • jan

    “Modern schools & daycares will not allow you to send your sick child to their facilities.”

    The short answer is “no”.

  • Amanda

    Hurricanes are bad enough in Florida and now we bring uncontrolled epidemics to our state. Never have corporation people welcomed the prospect of calamity more. I suppose Disney balance sheets don’t have a way to quantify that risk of a tourist disaster. And human tragedy. But,hey aren’t corporations people too, my friend?

  • FA

    the message is don’t go to Florida until they get paid sick days again.

  • angry elvis

    jello biafra.

  • Anonymous

    Hey all you worker victims: Register and VOTE the greedy ‘you know what’ out of office and their taxpayer paid health care. There must be more of us than ‘them’.

  • Anonymous

    Florida is off my list of places to visit. Ultimately, when corporation squeeze workers so they become serfs, it destroys their buying power. It could be the dog that bites them back as their profits decline especially if enough outraged people boycott them.. Politicians now in the pockets of millionaire corporatists are beginning to look as though they were weaned on pickles like one of their skinflint predecessors.. These pickle pusses in Congress are the new face of the Republic Party. They drink a lot of lemon flavored iced tea. They pride themselves on being the party of mean. Ayn Rand is their godess. Ayn Rand, who by the way died broke and living off government funds, was author of their cherished mythical books of fiction about successful “me first and only me” self-made men depicted in”Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”

  • NBF

    The government can have all my phone calls and emails if they promise to put at least 1 CEO or Wall Street honcho behind bars….esp someone who is partly to blame for our recession….think Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein.

  • Anonymous

    This isn’t just Florida. This is ALEC and ALEC has to go. The democrats have to educate the public and get the voters out. Happily the stupid repugs’ targeting of voters helped get the voters out to vote democratic. Once the democrats are in, they can stop Alec, lower the rate on student loans, make the top 1% pay their fair share of taxes, pass immigration legislation. The last 5 years undid much of the repugs’ damage. Remember Reagan’s “Are you better off than you were. . . .” Now it is time to turn it back on them.

  • Anonymous

    We just need state by state lists of those on the ALEC take. People must be taught how ALEC hijacked our democracy.

  • Heather Mash

    How do we the American people eliminate the enity known as ALEC? H.

  • Heather Mash

    Well, I appreciate your idea but it’s not just Florida that is infected with the Amendments that ALEC makes in many states. This ALEC organization is supported by Corporations and the REpublican/Teaparty politicians. H.

  • Heather Mash

    Well said, I agree and it’s scary. H.

  • Anonymous

    “Rick Rich Scott” a mindless collection of feces elected by the drooling masses to defraud them even more. The anti American prick should be deported.

  • bkorb

    ALEC is just craven. Anything that might maybe help the bottom line and any human cost involved is not their problem.