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An appellate court sided with business groups in another round of decisions that suspends a paid sick leave ordinance passed into law last fall.
The 4th Court of Appeals ruled against the City on Wednesday in its appeal to reverse an earlier court decision that delayed implementation of San Antonio’s safe and sick leave law.
Justice Rebecca Martinez filed a dissent from the majority ruling granting the abatement, noting that that “the potential for injustice is too great and the benefit of abatement is too speculative.”
Ricardo Cedillo, the attorney for the business groups, said he asked the City last year to wait out a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court on a similar case that is expected sometime this year.
“It made sense then to put this case on hold before the expenditures of time and money were made to obtain the injunction that halted implementation of the ordinance,” Cedillo said. “It makes sense again to stop the expense of the appeal, and the utilization of court resources, and await the decision of the Supreme Court that will very likely establish the controlling law on these issues.”
However, City Attorney Andy Segovia said there’s no guarantee the state’s highest court will make a ruling at all.
City Council first passed the ordinance to require employers to provide paid sick leave in August 2018, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2019, and implementation Aug. 1.
It was then postponed after local business groups, which include the Association of Builders and Contractors, the San Antonio Manufacturers Association, the San Antonio Restaurant Association, several staffing agencies, and others, filed a lawsuit against the City on July 15 and an agreement was forged to delay implementation to Dec. 1, 2019.
On Oct. 3, the council passed an amended ordinance with changes recommended by a commission of stakeholders on both sides of the issue.
The ordinance would mandate paid sick leave for all part-time and full-time employees – one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Civil rights groups such as MOVE Texas and the Texas Organizing Project have backed the law, with the TOP Education Fund named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
But the changes, intended to focus on the public health aspect of the law and broadened to include domestic violence victims, were not enough to avert the court-ordered injunction.
State District Court Judge Peter Sakai agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that paid sick leave is preempted by the state’s minimum wage laws and granted plaintiffs a temporary injunction last November. He also set a trial for Sept. 21 of this year.
The judge and the parties in the case expect the Texas Supreme Court to rule before then on a 3rd Court of Appeals decision that had declared unconstitutional a similar ordinance in Austin.
In the meantime, City officials have sought other ways to make paid sick leave a reality for more people in San Antonio. Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) has proposed that employers who do business with City departments, CPS Energy, and the San Antonio Water System be required to provide the benefit.
In addition, the City took the case to the 4th Court of Appeals in early January, asking it to overturn Sakai’s decision so the law could take effect.
The business groups fought again, and won, for postponement to await the higher court’s ruling.
“We still believe our ordinance is different from Austin’s and that under the Fair Labor Standards Act sick leave is a benefit and not compensation,” Segovia said. “Further, in her dissent, Justice Martinez also appropriately pointed out that there is no guarantee the Texas Supreme Court will even rule on the Austin ordinance.”
On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new paid sick leave plan in response to the coronavirus outbreak as the number of confirmed cases continues to grow in that state.