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Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith



State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith. Photo: Roberto Gonzalez via Orlando Weekly.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – One of many firsts in Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith’s life is that he was the first of his family to be born in the United States. His father Luis Guillermo is a Peruvian businessman that owns a pool cleaning company; his mother, Johanne, is a French Canadian teacher that runs an English Spoken To Other Languages (ESOL) public school program. In 1978 they moved to Fort Lauderdale with their daughter Cathy, and Smith came to the world two years later; youngest Kristine would round out the family later.

Smith graduated in 1999 from Spanish River High School in Boca Ratón and then attended the University of Central Florida, where he obtained a degree in business administration in 2003. He put his education to work as he became manager for Men’s Warehouse in both Florida and Georgia for eight years.

Smith grew tired of the corporate world and decided he wanted to make a difference, first volunteering as a community organizer every chance he got, and then as a legislative aide to State Representative Scott Randolph in 2011 and as communications director and senior advisor to Representative Joe Saunders in 2012. He was so successful in his job that he was elected leader of the Orange County Democratic Party in 2013.

Smith’s first lobbying job came in 2015 for Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy group, where he was hired governmental affairs manager. He managed to compromise with Republican lawmakers to amend the so-called Pastor Protection Act, which legally allows religious services to refuse same-sex marriages, to not expand into private businesses. Smith has also worked with Equality Florida to fight discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

In 2015, Smith announced he would run for State Representative for the 49th District, occupied by another Latino, Republican Joe Plascencia, who had opted to run for the neighboring 50th district. He campaigned as a progressive and gaining national media attention for his position against the 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, an event that hit him personally as both a Latino and an openly gay man since it had occurred on Latino night. He eventually won the election with 69% of the vote, Florida’s first openly LGBTQ Latino lawmaker, and won the reelection in 2018 with 64%.

Smith has filed a bill that bans the sale, transfer, and possession of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines three times: once in 2017, inspired by the Pulse shooting, where it died in committee; a first time in 2018, days after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting; and a second time later that same year, after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting. The bill never made it to the floor, but Smith has continued to campaign for gun control.

Smith has also worked for better education in the state, protection for undocumented immigrants, healthcare (especially regarding treatment for veterans and those suffering from PTSD), and Florida’s racing greyhounds.

He married his partner Jerick Mediavilla Negrón, alumni relations manager and educator at Ana G. Mendez University, in 2019.



Disney World unions vote down offer covering 45,000 workers



ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Union members voted down a contract proposal covering tens of thousands of Walt Disney World service workers, saying it didn’t go far enough toward helping employees face cost-of-living hikes in housing and other expenses in central Florida.

The unions said that 13,650 out of 14,263 members who voted on the contract on Friday rejected the proposal from Disney, sending negotiators back to the bargaining table for another round of talks that have been ongoing since August. The contract covers around 45,000 service workers at the Disney theme park resort outside Orlando.

Disney World service workers who are in the six unions that make up the Service Trades Council Union coalition had been demanding a starting minimum wage jump to at least $18 an hour in the first year of the contract, up from the starting minimum wage of $15 an hour won in the previous contract.

The proposal rejected on Friday would have raised the starting minimum wage to $20 an hour for all service workers by the last year of the five-year contract, an increase of $1 each year for a majority of the workers it covered. Certain positions, like housekeepers, bus drivers and culinary jobs, would start immediately at a minimum of $20 under the proposal.

“Housekeepers work extremely hard to bring the magic to Disney, but we can’t pay our bills with magic,” said Vilane Raphael, who works as a housekeeper at the Disney Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

The company said that the proposal had offered a quarter of those covered by the contract an hourly wage of $20 in its first year, eight weeks of paid time off for a new child, maintenance of a pension and the introduction of a 401K plan.

“Our strong offer provides more than 30,000 Cast Members a nearly 10% on average raise immediately, as well as retroactive increased pay in their paychecks, and we are disappointed that those increases are now delayed,” Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger said in a statement.

The contract stalemate comes as the Florida Legislature is prepared to convene next week to complete a state takeover of Disney World’s self-governing district. With the support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the GOP-controlled Statehouse last April approved legislation to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District by June 2023, beginning a closely watched process that would determine the structure of government that controls Disney World’s sprawling property.

The contract with the service workers covers the costumed character performers who perform as Mickey Mouse, bus drivers, culinary workers, lifeguards, theatrical workers and hotel housekeepers, representing more than half of the 70,000-plus workforce at Disney World. The contract approved five years ago made Disney the first major employer in central Florida to agree to a minimum hourly wage of $15, setting the trend for other workers in the hospitality industry-heavy region.

A report commissioned last year by one of the unions in the coalition, Unite Here Local 737, said that an adult worker with no dependents would need to earn $18.19 an hour to make a living wage in central Florida, while a family with two children would need both parents earning $23.91 an hour for a living wage.

While a wage of $15 an hour was enough for the last contract, “with skyrocketing rent, food, and gas prices in the last three years, it’s no longer possible to survive with those wages,” the report said.

Before the pandemic, workers with families in the $15 to $16.50 an hour wage bracket could pay their bills. But with inflation causing the price of food and gas to shoot up, an employee earning $15 an hour full time currently makes $530 less than the worker would need to pay for rent, food and gas each month, the report said.

Last month, food service and concessions workers at the Orange County Convention Center voted to approve a contract that will increase all nontipped workers’ wages to $18 an hour by August, making them the first hospitality workers in Orlando to reach that pay rate.

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Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Proposed Legislation on Teacher’s Bill of Rights



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced an unprecedented legislative proposal to create a Teacher’s Bill of Rights that empowers educators to be leaders in their classrooms, enact paycheck protection, reduce terms for school board members from twelve to eight years, and invest another $1 billion in teacher pay. For more information, click here.
“This is a huge package to increase teacher pay, support teacher empowerment and protect teachers’ paychecks by ensuring they have control over their hard-earned salary,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We want more transparency into how school unions operate, and we are going to fight against school union haggling that holds teachers and their salary increases hostage. Partisan groups should not be given special privileges.”
“From day one, Governor Ron DeSantis has made it his mission to raise teacher pay and elevate educators in the classroom — and he has succeeded,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. “Today’s announcement goes another step further to provide historic funding for teachers’ salaries and ensure they have control over their classrooms and paychecks.”
Paycheck Protection
The Governor’s proposal will create more accountability and transparency for public sector unions, including K-12 teacher unions and higher education unions. This proposal will require school unions to represent at least 60% of employees eligible for representation, an increase over the current 50% threshold, and allow state investigations into unions suspected of fraud, waste and abuse. Additionally, the proposal will require annual audits and financial disclosures for unions.
To further ensure that school boards are acting in the best interests of Florida’s teachers and students, this proposal reduces term limits for school board members from 12 years to 8 years and seeks to make school board elections a partisan election. A joint resolution for the 2023 Legislative Session has already been filed by Senator Gruters and Representative Roach to begin this process.
Other paycheck protections that would be enacted under this proposal include:
  • Prohibit any union representing public employees from having its dues and assessments deducted by the public employee’s employer.
  • Require employees to submit a form acknowledging that Florida is a right to work state and union participation is optional.
  • Require school unions to annually notify members of the cost of membership.
  • Prohibit the distribution of union materials at the workplace.
  • Union officials cannot be paid more than the highest paid union member.
  • Prohibit union work while on the clock for their taxpayer funded job.
  • Prohibit school board members and superintendents from accepting a personal or work-related benefit such as a secret “office account” from a school union.
Teacher Empowerment
Since the Governor took office, education has been at the forefront of policy making decisions. Florida law currently contains comprehensive legislation related to students’ rights and parents’ rights in education but does not have a clear compilation of teachers’ rights and authorities. This proposal will establish teacher empowerment provisions in law and will include these main provisions:
  • Establish a new process for individuals to notify the state of a violation of teachers’ rights and ensure that the Department of Education can investigate those claims.
  • Empower teachers to maintain safe classroom environments by creating a “stand your ground” classroom safety policy to protect teachers who are often judged unfairly for maintaining order and safety in their classrooms.
  • Clarify that teachers have the choice to join their local teachers union and will not face any repercussions if they opt not to join.
  • Providing civil remedies for teachers who are asked to violate Florida law and punished by their employers for standing up for what is right.
Raising Teacher Pay
Since 2020, the Governor has secured more than $2 billion in funding for teacher pay, the largest pay increase for teachers in Florida history. This funding has allowed Florida to achieve an average starting teacher salary of $48,000 for the 2022-2023 school year, meeting and exceeding Florida’s goal of an average starting teacher salary of $47,500. The Governor is proposing an additional $200 million to continue raising teacher pay, bringing the total to $1 billion for teacher pay in his recommended budget for the next year.
This $200 million increase over the current year’s budget will be provided to school districts with maximum flexibility to best fit the school district’s needs. School districts will be able to apply the funding to continue raising starting teacher salaries or to provide salary increases for veteran teachers and other eligible instructional personnel.
No eligible full-time classroom teacher will receive a base salary less than the minimum base salary established during the 2022-2023 school year.

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Former State Representative Daisy Morales statement about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California



State Rep. Daisy Morales. Photo: Florida House of Representatives.

ORLANDO, Fla. (January 22, 2023) – Former State Representative Daisy Morales, the 2022 sponsor of the Active Shooter Alert System legislation (HB 1271), issued the following statement about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California that left 10 dead and 10 wounded.

Former Florida State Representative Daisy Morales’ statement:

“I am horrified and deeply saddened to learn about the attack in Monterey Park following the 2023 Lunar New Year festival. I condemn this terrible and senseless act of violence against the Asian American community.

“America is becoming a country where human life doesn’t matter to some lawmakers over senseless gun violence. Lawmakers have a constitutional duty to build a safer future for all Americans and my Active Shooter Alert System legislation will do that.

“I look forward to working with state law enforcement officials, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and state lawmakers to reintroduce this lifesaving piece of legislation during the 2023 Legislative Session.”

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