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Mothers group petitions Disney over sick pay laws

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Representatives of a national organization of mothers were prevented on Thursday from delivering a petition to Walt Disney World accusing it of trying to block laws that would require companies to provide paid sick leave for employees.

"They were turned away and security was called," Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, told Reuters on Friday.

She said only a handful of members of the group were involved in the aborted attempt to hand-deliver the petition and a Disney spokesman, Bryan Malenius, did not immediately return a call from Reuters for comment.

Disney employees through their unions, have battled with the company over wages and benefits in the past. In a union documentary called "Mouse Trapped 2010," one employee described having to take handouts from churches to make ends meet.

MomsRising, which claims 1 million U.S. members, collected 6,000 signatures in the first 24 hours after drafting a letter that calls on Disney to support healthy workers, Rowe-Finkbeiner said.

MomsRising got involved after the Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported that Disney, along with the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Darden Restaurants Inc , which owns the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains, helped draft a bill currently before the Florida legislature to ban local communities from enacting their own paid sick time rules.

The proposed state law follows a grassroots campaign in Orange County, Disney's home, to place a referendum about paid sick leave on the ballot. Supporters collected more than 50,000 signatures to place the issue on the November 2012 ballot. But county commissioners by a 4-3 vote blocked the measure from getting on the ballot.

In what came to be called "textgate," some county commissioners were found to be texting with lobbyists - including Disney lobbyists - before the vote and during the meeting.

Rowe-Finkbeiner said the issue resonates with many of her members who struggle when they or their children are ill.

"It's no surprise that momentum for earned sick time is growing. Parents get how important access to earned sick time is and that's why we want Disney to stop working to block earned sick time initiatives in Florida," Rowe-Finkbeiner said.

MomsRising members were active in getting earned sick time laws passed in Seattle, San Francisco and Connecticut, and currently are pushing for laws in New York City and Philadelphia, she said.

She said 160 counties require minimum earned sick time, and companies have found the benefit cuts down on absenteeism by reducing the spread of illness, she noted.

(Editing by David Adams, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)

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