House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a stop in Orlando on her way to Puerto Rico joining Congressman Alan Grayson and several community leaders for the Working Women Town Hall. The town hall was co-sponsored by the Main Street Alliance of Florida and focused on the principles of When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. During opening statements, the Alliance for a Just Society’s Women’s Health Report Card was discussed, and the Representatives were ashamed to hear that Florida received a D overall and an F when it comes to health coverage for women. Several community members had an opportunity to address the Representatives and the panel of leaders, including two local small business owners.Pictured from left; Orlando City Councilwoman Regina Hill, Main Street Florida Leader Ricardo McQueen, Orange County Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell
Martin Heroux, of Armando y Jorge’s Orlandonan Hot Sauce, asked the panel what could be done about the sub-minimum wage provided for tipped food service employees, a field dominated by women. As a business owner, Martin is committed to never paying low wages to his employees, or forcing them to rely on the generosity of customers to make ends meet, but wanted to know what could be done to level the playing field for companies like his. Several members of the panel responded, agreeing that the fight to raise the minimum wage must include efforts to raise tipped wages and level the playing field for small businesses that know their employees are worth more than $4.91 an hour. Their vision for Florida is for the state to join seven other states in abolishing tipped wages and requiring employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage to all employees.
Ricardo McQueen, President and Owner of Food Health and Environmental Safety discussed Earned Sick Time, and the need to incentivize businesses to offer paid sick leave. As a leader in the food safety industry Ricardo discussed the health concerns surrounding sick employees being forced to work, and the economic impact of having to lose a day or more of pay, particularly for low wage workers. While Orange County achieved the daunting task of getting Earned Sick Time placed on the ballot and voters in the August primary overwhelmingly supported the measure, citizens are still left without the measure due to preemptive measures taken by the big business backed State Legislature. Pressure from large corporations headquartered in Central Florida, such as Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants, led to a controversial decision to nullify the work done by the Florida Main Street Alliance and other local organizations to secure paid sick leave.
Orange County Commission Tiffany Moore Russell responded directly to Ricardo’s testimony saying that we must continue the dialogue surrounding earned sick time, and ensuring that low wage workers in particular are afforded the right to call off to care for a sick child without losing pay. She suggested forming community based support groups for new and young mothers who can rely on each other for childcare assistance to help reduce the financial impact of a child getting sick. She went on to discuss the need to secure maternity leave for new mothers, and shared her personal story of having a baby while in office and only being able to take off for six weeks. Orlando City Councilwoman Regina Hill addressed Ricardo’s comments by saying that she supports measures that would force companies contracted by the city of Orlando to offer paid sick leave and maternity leave. Councilwoman Hill said we need to reward companies that are committed to their employees and incentivize high road business practices.