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Despite COVID, paid sick time for service workers hasn’t grown much, survey says

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, hardly any more restaurant cooks, grocery clerks and other service workers are getting paid sick time, according to a national survey conducted by university researchers.

The Shift Project, which has surveyed more than 90,000 hourly staffers since 2017, found 49% of service workers had paid sick leave in the fall of 2021. That figure was at 48% before the pandemic.

“If there was ever a moment when companies might have stepped up voluntarily to offer paid sick leave it was now,” said Daniel Schneider, co-director of The Shift Project and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The surveyed employees included workers in retail, grocery, pharmacy, fast food, casual dining, delivery and other jobs. The Shift Project, whose principal investigators are Schneider and University of California-San Francisco professor Kristen Harknett, uses targeted social media advertisements to reach employees of large companies.

The figures show the need for federal action to provide employees with earned sick time, said Denise Diaz, co-executive director of Central Florida Jobs with Justice.

“It’s just not what you would expect given we have just been through this unprecedented pandemic,” Diaz said. “We are talking about workers who can’t afford to get sick.”

Between 2017 and 2021, just 12% of 309 staffers for Orlando-based Red Lobster who participated in The Shift Project survey said they had access to paid sick time, according to Schneider.

The privately held company has more than 700 restaurants. Red Lobster has 45,000 employees, according to Forbes.

The seafood chain pays sick leave in jurisdictions that require it, an unsigned statement from Red Lobster said.

“Red Lobster’s paid time off policies are consistent with our industry, in which the vast majority of our workforce are hourly employees with flexible scheduling options,” the statement said.

The Red Lobster located at 3552 E. Colonial Drive, in Orlando, photographed Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

The Red Lobster located at 3552 E. Colonial Drive, in Orlando, photographed Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel) (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

“I think that it’s all too common in the food-service sector,” Schneider said. “Folks at Red Lobster are not the exception, unfortunately.”

A lack of paid sick time creates an “impossible situation” for workers who are just getting by, and going to work sick is a significant risk, Schneider said.

“Sick workers need time to recover … it’s a real risk posed to coworkers and public health,” he said.

In 2021, 63% of 98 surveyed Red Lobster workers who were sick in the last month said they worked anyway, according to Schneider and The Shift Project. Two-thirds of those workers said it was because they didn’t have paid sick leave or needed the pay.

Red Lobster’s statement said employees are not allowed to work sick and no one should ever receive pressure to do so.

“We encourage any employee who feels compelled to work when he/she/they are ill to elevate the issue to leadership for support,” the company’s statement said.

One of the highest-profile companies to add the benefit in the past couple of years was Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, which now offers paid sick leave at its more than 1,850 restaurants including Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other chains. The policy started in March 2020, as the coronavirus emerged in the U.S. Darden sold Red Lobster in 2014.

“Over the past two years, we have invested more than $200 million in programs benefitting our people,” Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said. “All of these investments, which include paid sick leave, have been well received by our team members.”

Schneider said survey responses from Olive Garden employees show Darden has done what it said it was going to do, with workers reporting they got paid sick leave.

But he said there are not enough other companies adding sick leave.

“We hear about the few companies that have expanded paid sick leave and they’ve gotten good [news] coverage for that,” Schneider said.

Red Lobster has pivoted by cutting hours, offering take-out only and, in some cases, temporarily closing restaurants, the statement said.

“COVID-19 continues to impact our operations, including staff needing to stay home because they are sick or need to quarantine following exposure,” Red Lobster’s statement said.

Many restaurants also have struggled to fill jobs.

“It is not a coincidence there is a shortage of service workers knowing that they’re still not getting these essential protections,” Diaz said.

afuller@orlandosentinel.com

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Fired Former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo Files Lawsuit Against City, Commissioners, City Manager

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Three months after he was fired, former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo is taking legal action against the City of Miami.

On Wednesday, Acevedo filed a 50-page lawsuit claiming the city manager and three commissioners violated his First Amendment rights.

READ MORE: London-Bound American Airlines Flight Returned To MIA After Passenger Refused To Wear A Mask

Acevedo claims they illegally retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on, what he describes as, a toxic stew of corruption and wrongdoing at city hall.

That includes City Manager Art Noriega and Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla, and Manolo Reyes.

The complaint details several examples of alleged illegal and unethical activity by commissioners, saying they attempted to “weaponize” Miami police officers against their enemies.

WATCH: Deborah Souverains Report On Art Acevedo’s Lawsuit

Acevedo said his firing after only being on the job six months was retribution for trying to maintain his independence as police chief.

It claims those commissioners “targeted Chief Acevedo because of his resistance to their efforts to use the MPD to carry out their personal agendas and vendettas, his reform efforts, and his speaking out against corruption and abuse of power by the City of Miami Commission.”

The new lawsuit alleges Commissioner Carollo demanded Acevedo investigate multiple businesses of his political opponent on allegations Acevedo says were unfounded

It also claims the commissioners interfered in an investigation into a Miami Sergeant-at-Arms, accused of a security breach.

READ MORE: COVID-19 Testing Site Finder

The lawsuit further says commissioners pushed back against Acevedo’s efforts to combat excessive use of force and their alleged cover-ups.

The suit cites a specific instance where “a woman in police custody spit on an officer, the officer punched her in the face and drove her to the ground, causing her to lose consciousness.”

Back in September and October, Acevedo was the subject of criticism in a series of fiery commission meetings.  The concerns raised included a comment Acevedo made about the department being run by the “Cuban mafia,” his demoting of several police officers, and a Fraternal Order of Police survey which found 79% of those polled did not have confidence in Acevedo’s ability to run the department.

Commissioner Carollo even went so far as to criticize the size of Acevedo’s pants when he performed as Elvis for a charity fundraiser and made comments about if he was “wearing a jockstrap.”

Noriega released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“This was expected and I look forward to the opportunity to discredit these false claims made by the former Police Chief. It’s clearly an attempt to retaliate against the individuals that held him accountable for his own shortcomings as Miami Police Chief and to attempt to salvage his professional reputation by casting blame on others. I will leave it to our Law Department to address the complaint directly through the proper legal channels.”

Commissioner Manolo Reyes also issued a statement:

“It is extremely unfortunate that Mr. Acevedo has chosen to sue the city of Miami and its elected officials for his own shortcomings as a police chief. We look forward to handling this matter in court. More so, at no time did I give Mr. Acevedo a list of restaurants and bars to investigate. Nor did I give him any directive regarding an internal affairs investigation.

We will all have our day in court.”

MORE NEWS: COVID-19 Vaccine Site Finder

Commissioner Carollo could not be reached for comment.

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London-Bound American Airlines Flight Returned To MIA After Passenger Refused To Wear A Mask

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An American Airlines London bound flight from Miami was forced to turn around Wednesday night after a passenger refused to wear a mask.

Flight 38 was about an hour and a half into its flight to Heathrow Airport when it circled back and returned to Miami International Airport.

READ MORE: Fired Former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo Files Lawsuit Against City, Commissioners, City Manager

Police dispatch called for officers to meet the plane at Gate D14 because at least one passenger was not respecting the mask mandate. Once it landed, more than 100 passengers were informed they had to get off the plane.

Many on the plane had no idea why it returned to Miami.

“Disappointed. They wouldn’t really say anything and I don’t think they told the flight attendants anything because all they would say is there was an extreme incident and they had to turn around,” said one passenger.

READ MORE: COVID-19 Testing Site Finder

“They just told us to get off and the police were there,” said another passenger.

American Airlines issued a statement apologizing for the inconvenience.

“American Airlines flight 38 with service from Miami (MIA) to London (LHR) returned to MIA due to disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement. The flight landed at MIA where local law enforcement met the aircraft. We thank our crew for their professionalism and apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.”

MORE NEWS: COVID-19 Vaccine Site Finder

The flight was canceled as a result of the incident, leaving these flyers to seek alternate arrangements.

CBSMiami.com Team

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COVID-19 Testing Site Finder

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(Getty Images)

Miami-Dade County offers free testing for COVID-19 at drive-thru, walk-in and mobile sites.

CLICK HERE TO FIND A TESTING SITE NEAR YOU IN MIAMI-DADE.

Test site operations have expanded in Broward to meet increased demand.

CLICK HERE TO FIND A TESTING SITE NEAR YOU IN BROWARD.

In Monroe County, positive COVID-19 cases are significantly increasing as well.

CLICK HERE TO FIND A TESTING SITE NEAR YOU IN MONROE.

CBSMiami.com Team

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