Paid Sick Leave Faces Uncertain Future, Draws Praise and Critique

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The San Antonio City Council unanimously approved new zoning and infill development rules.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The San Antonio City Council unanimously approved new zoning and infill development rules.

City Council on Thursday approved an ordinance that would make earned paid sick leave a reality for more than 350,000 workers in San Antonio.

But the controversial measure, which passed in a 9-2 vote, now faces an uncertain future due to possible conflict with state law.

The ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019, and requires employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a yearly cap of 48 hours for small employers and 64 hours for those with more than 15 employees. Businesses with more the five employees must comply by Aug. 1, 2019; those with less have until August 2021.

Supporters touted public health benefits for underserved communities throughout the city, while opponents cited concern over the measure’s financial impact on the business community.

“Paid sick leave creates a healthier San Antonio for all,” Nirenberg said. “It’s a public health issue, and the City has jurisdiction to pass ordinances to ensure the health and safety of our citizens.”

The San Antonio business community has widely opposed the ordinance since Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, a coalition of advocacy groups, submitted more than 140,000 petition signatures on May 24.

Ramiro Cavazos, president of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told City Council on Thursday that while the organization supports the concept of paid sick leave, it should not be implemented in a “prescriptive manner,” noting the decision should be made at the state level to ensure fair business practices.

Nirenberg said City Council adopting the ordinance provides an opportunity to find common ground between employees and businesses. It also allows potential revisions to the existing proposal before it goes into effect. The State of Texas still has to determine whether municipalities can legally implement a local standard for coordinating and allocating sick leave, Nirenberg said.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said there are too many unanswered questions about how the ordinance would affect both the bottom lines of the City of San Antonio and local businesses, and that fighting lawsuits in opposition to the ordinance also would cost taxpayer dollars.

“We are setting ourselves up for another lawsuit that we will have to defend with taxpayer money to go against the State when they have already told us they are going to preempt this,” Perry said.

San Antonio is the second city in Texas to pass a paid sick leave mandate after an ordinance passed in Austin in February. Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke out in opposition of cities attempting to implement local paid sick leave ordinances, which he said would “conflict directly” with state law.

In a letter sent to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council on June 9, Paxton said that “no matter the Council’s decision or the result of any ballot initiative, Texas law preempts a municipal paid sick leave ordinance.”

More recently, the Attorney General’s office has taken action to prove that point.

On Aug. 6, Paxton’s office filed a motion with the 3rd Court of Appeals to put a temporary hold on Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance before it goes into effect Oct. 1. The motion came after Travis County State District Court Judge Tim Sulak denied a temporary injunction supported by Paxton against the City of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance on June 26.

State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) also voiced opposition to City-mandated earned paid sick leave in a statement to Nirenberg and City Council that was read during Citizens to be Heard on Aug. 9. She called the outcome of Thursday’s council vote “extremely disappointing.”

“If left unchallenged, this California-sized overreach into the daily operations of private businesses will have a negative effect on wages and jobs while making it harder for small businesses to stay open,” Campbell’s wrote in a Thursday statement. “I stand ready to introduce legislation that protects the rights of business owners and the best interests of the Texas economy.”

Nirenberg said he plans to form a commission to address legal concerns and consider options to revise the ordinance. Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), a labor attorney, has been pegged to serve on the committee.

Pelaez voted to approve the ordinance, which he called “flawed but well-intentioned,” but said the measure is “dead on arrival” because the ordinance is preempted by state law and the Texas Constitution. The only way to settle it is by allowing the court system to determine legality, he said.

Council members who voted to pass the ordinance cited a win for underserved communities, public health in the workforce, and the democratic process.

“Every day, there are families who have to make the difficult decision whether to deal with an illness and miss out on pay …,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said in a written statement. “As the child who was raised by a single mother, I experienced this situation firsthand. I feel this effort addresses the struggle people like my mother deal with on a daily basis.”

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said “a healthy workforce is central to … the efforts and sacrifices of both business owners and employees,” emphasizing her commitment to protecting small business owners’ survival and growth.

“I want to thank the many community advocates who brought this petition to City Council and have spoken with us on this matter,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) stated after the vote. “Your work is an inspiring example of the democratic process and the power of civic engagement.”

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) pushed to have the measure added to the Nov. 6 ballot for a vote during the Thursday’s council meeting, citing a need for more information on how everyone involved would be impacted, including the City, employees, and employers.

In a statement sent after the measure was approved, Brockhouse said “City Council continues to overstep its boundaries and enact policies that are beyond the role of City government,” and that it “should not be telling business owners how to run their companies, pay for their employees or what benefits to offer.”

Nirenberg and City Council now have until Jan. 1, 2019 to determine how to best implement the ordinance so the City is in full compliance by Aug. 1, 2019.

Pelaez voted to approve the ordinance, which he called “flawed but well-intentioned,” but said the measure is “dead on arrival” because the ordinance is preempted by state law and the Texas Constitution. The only way to settle it is by allowing the court system to determine legality, he said.

Nirenberg and City Council now have until Jan. 1, 2019 to determine how to best implement the ordinance so the City is in full compliance by Aug. 1, 2019.


40 thoughts on “Paid Sick Leave Faces Uncertain Future, Draws Praise and Critique

  1. San Antonio now joins Austin! Absolutely the right move. A great first step. It’s clear the direction San Antonio is moving. To me, the next choice is clear. It’s time for a living wage! #PushTheNeedle

  2. Way to slam the door to businesses in San Antonio. Small businesses will be closing up shop or moving out of the area. A victory for the labor movement? There isn’t much a movement when you lose your jobs. Government has no business getting in between the agreement between employer and employee. Want those sort of benefits? How about going and getting hired by a company that offers those benefits. The company won’t hire you? Then make yourself more marketable.

    We don’t need to be anything like Austin. Want to be like Austin? Go move to Austin.

    • RC, there’s a saying that applies here: if your business can’t survive by treating your employees with dignity, then it isn’t a viable business to begin with. It’s true for healthcare, and it’s also true for sick leave. Saying that ensuring your employees don’t have to suffer more than just by being sick will “slam the door to business” is intellectually dishonest and has NEVER been borne out by real-world evidence. Failure to provide a basic minimum package of benefits (like sick leave) has only ever added to the wealth of company executives and not to the average worker. Instead, they are forced to show up sick or stay home without pay, and that surely impacts those workers who don’t make a large salary to begin with. And to your point about just “going and getting hired by a company that offers those benefits,” are you suggesting that our economy can actually survive by only offering the types of jobs that are likely to include voluntary employer benefits? Good luck living in a world without food/beverage establishments, contracting companies, small/local retailers, independent day care centers, etc., etc., etc. It’s a total fantasy to believe that the entire working-age population can just will themselves into jobs where we should thank our lucky stars we can get sick without going bankrupt.

      • If you don’t like what the employer is offering, then go somewhere else. It’s as simple as that. It will be abused. And then the small business has to cover that. And to assume that people will not abuse this is “intellectually dishonest” This will have a harsh economical impact on “…food/beverage establishments, contracting companies, small/local retailers, independent day care centers, etc., etc., etc. ” It’s not a total fantasy to believe that the entire working-age population can get better jobs. How about improving your lot. How about making better life choices. How about honing your skills? How about improving your focus and moral compass?

        • RC, If YOU hired employees you feel would abuse sick leave, it’s on you! Perhaps someone needs better HR skills? I work at a company of 12 people. One person got sick and spread it to another…then that person gave it to another…and so on. If the 1st person had just stayed home a day or two, the company wouldn’t have lost 9 days of productivity and the employees wouldn’t have lost 9 days of vacation time. Also when employees have to use vacation days for sickness, productivity declines. How about improving your moral compass? Just a thought.

    • Way to uphold the servant/servitude of the workplace by not allowing workers to collect what they deserve in the workplace. No one is going to lose their jobs when the speedy growth of the city, opportunity, property value, etc for businesses outweighs the worry about paying their employees sick leave. Next stop unionize workplaces.

      Don’t like it? Go move elsewhere.

      • What they deserve? If they failed to negotiate that at the beginning of their contract with their employer, how is that on the business? Don’t like what the employer is offering? Don’t work there. Simple as that. And if you can’t find a job somewhere else, then start looking at yourself for what that is.

        • It’s probably been awhile since you’ve seen that non-supervisory starting positions don’t offer that kind of flexibility in negotiations. It’s sometimes as simple as “take it or leave it” from a wide variety of the same type of employment, RC. I think we can agree the worker, with a little help from gov’t and non-gov’t orgs, should have opportunities to keep acquiring employment skills, including salary research and negotiating tactics. It can be a matter of just getting to the public library or the closest Texas workforce center. And I’m sure we agree the city is better suited to providing the best roads and VIA busing, and the best CareLink program, than mandating PTO (sorry D7 Sandoval, gonna disagree with you and remember this next election)

          • The business world, and society in general, owes you nothing. Businesses exist to provide a service, and make a profit. If they treat their employees so terribly, nobody would work there, and the business would fail. This happens every day.

            To expect the government to force a business to provide paid time off will only increase the prices the business charges. As stated previously in these posts. If you don’t like the ‘no benefits’ situation, deal with it, until you can get a better job.

            If this legislation is implemented, track the number of businesses that close. Just like the restaurants in cities with a forced $15/hr minimum wage. I can tell you the community activists won’t track the stats, it does not fit their false narrative.

  3. This was a political masterstroke on three fronts:
    1. Quiet down the 140,000 higher performing citizens demanding this.
    2. Leave business owners to rely on the court’s likely defeat of the ordinance.
    3. Clear up the November ballot for a concentrated PR push to vote “no” on the fire union initiatives.

    I wonder which of the above three was front and center of the nine yes votes for the paid sick leave ordinance?

    • Tim – you got it right. So unfortunate to have passed but even worse that people are so uninformed that they think this is a good thing.

      • No on the three upcoming propositions. Just get together with your neighbors (e.g. COPS / Metro, neighborhood association) to speak more loudly at City Hall, and in particular your *elected representative*.
        I’m embarrassed to know Mr. Steele and the SAFD union are making such a craven ploy for their own benefit, under the guise of “populism”, to muddy up our local government.

  4. Be careful in what you ask for. Just a thought (rant)…employees can be given less hours and earn less wages as to slow an extra expenditure in their business. There can be a lot of black lash from this City Council’s decisions without a public vote. Spend our Tax payors dollars on things that really help everyone in San Antonio, not only the working class. If you need paid sick time off from work then, put up money in your bank if you need a day off being sick and want it paid. Taxing more and more on employers is going to negotiate yourselves and everyone else out of a job!! Bring on the State and spend more monies when that money could be put to use in other areas needed in our City.

  5. There is no free ride. This will cost people their jobs. So instead of not having paid sick leave, you won’t have a job at all. If you had paid sick time, expect that to be cut back to the legal limit. If you don’t like the benefits at your current job, look for a new job. If you want better benefits and pay, develop skills that are more marketable to make more money. This is government overreach that will cost our city thousands of jobs.

    At a minimum, this decision will cost the city millions in legal fees. Shocking that an attorney on the city council thinks we should let the courts (and attorneys) decide this.

    Time to clean house at City Hall.

  6. Thank you, Mr. Brockhouse and Mr. Perry for just saying NO! I hope to see both or either of their names on ballot for next mayor. What happens when this vote affects the city council members or their family businesses when their employees take sick leave as a vacation and come to work when really sick! Oh wait, the salary they receive from the tax payers will cover their loss of employee out on paid sick leave. It is a travesty that we pay city council members and mayor, look at all the liberal passages that have taken place since.

    • Yup, gotta say I side with the D6 and D10 councilpersons on this matter (I will remember this vote, D7 Sandoval)

    • I didn’t even need to read this to know Brockhouse was against it. The Master Grandstander is against anything that wasn’t HIS idea! He wastes taxpayer’s time by continually “running” for office instead of working for voters.

  7. I am appalled at all the comments by those who most assuredly have paid leave offered by their own employers, spewing these fear tactics about jobs disappearing because they’ll now have to offer 6-8 paid sick days PER YEAR to their employees. As I stated in a reply above, if you can’t afford to run your business without bankrupting your employees for getting sick, your business was never viable to begin with. If you really think this is what will kill jobs, please show me the math.

    • nothing says they can’t figure out how to get along with fewer workers. You can pontificate all you want, but business owners will do what they must.

      • Businesses just received a 14% tax break. If they can’t afford to pay their employees for up to 64 hours of sick leave, then they were already on the verge of bankruptcy. These employees make minimum wage or thereabout so you’re talking a few hundred dollars per year per employee. This ordinance will hardly affect their bottom line considered their new lower tax rate.

        • you don’t know that. You don’t know the tax status of these companies, whether they are C or S corps, or partnerships. And let us say that there are companies operating on the edge, so it’s all right with you for the city to kill them off.

          • So what about the single parent with a sick child who is “operating on the edge”? Her choices under the current system are stay home without pay to care for her child and risk losing her job or send her child to school with an illness and risk infecting other kids at school. Why do we have to worry more about the business owner than the employee?

  8. The answer for businesses is to replace workers with technology. Just as happened in 1938 when 10,000 pecan shellers struck and got a raise in arbitration, three years later they were out of work, having been replaced by mechanical shellers.

    • Capital replacing human labor with technology has been happening since before this ordinance passed and will continue even after the Texas Supreme Court inevitably strikes it down. The focus on lining shareholders’ pockets at the expense of low-level employees and their well-being is a tale as old as time. This ordinance will have no affect on that trend.

      You can’t honestly believe that those pecan shellers wouldn’t have been replaced by machines if they hadn’t gone on strike. Of course they would have. Workers have to unite and advocate for themselves because their employers certainly aren’t going to look out for their best interests if it conflicts with their profit motive.

      • Well, within three years after agreeing to pay the shellers more money the machines were there and the shellers gone. You say there is no nexus?

        • There absolutely is a nexus. I’m sure that if the technology had been available two years or one year or 6 months later, the workers would have been replaced within that time frame whether or not they asked for a raise. So, as I said before, the nexus there is increasing profits for business owners at all cost, regardless of the impact on workers.

          McDonald’s cashiers, whether they make $7.25 per hour or $15 per hour, are being replaced by computer kiosks in cities and states without mandatory paid sick leave. The corporation and franchise owners would rather pay $0 per hour to a robot any day, regardless of the strength of the labor movement or labor laws in their jurisdiction. Businesses that don’t want to pay their workers a living wage or provide basic benefits like paid sick leave only view workers as a cut to their profits and will do everything they can to eliminate paid wages wherever they can.

          The State of Texas has made it very clear that they care more about the bottom line of corporations than they do about the health of their citizens, and even though this law will never be allowed to come into effect, I am glad that our City Council has at least told us that they stand with the workers of San Antonio.

  9. This won’t cost an employer a dime if they are smart about it. Since most, if not all, employees will likely take advantage of this “benefit”, including most that will be “sick” on Fridays or Mondays to make it a long weekend, all an employer has to do is reduce the number of paid holidays and vacation time to balance it out. The only downside, for the employer, will be that “sick” leave is not scheduled, or at least is not supposed to be (wink, wink).

    After a while, I’m sure politicians, who’ve never had to make a payroll, will try to require vacation and holidays as well. Then, if they get away with that, paid family and bereavement leave will be on the agenda, too. Heck, while they are at it, how about requiring getting paid a bonus for the days an employee actually shows up for work and double that if they actually do any work on that day. Finally, guaranteed employment for life. No one can be fired for any reason, unless they don’t show up after a death certificate has been issued, but then a two year severance package is required before being take off the payroll.

  10. Other outlets are reporting that the ordinance takes effect August 1, 2019, but you have reported January 1. Which is it?

  11. I wrote earlier but felt the need to post again.
    It’s funny how quickly we forget that we as a society introduced child labor laws in the U.S. because people were literally sending children to factories vs a school. An exploited class was finally regulated to reduce a human rights injustice. Did the government intervene and regulate? YES, of course, because it had to. I don’t have time to write an essay but will say if you do some research paid sick leave actually has numerous benefits for a businesses bottom line. Given those truths, I really encourage everyone to do the same research and come to the conclusion that it actually helps everyone. I honestly do not believe everyone here who comments against paid sick leave is an actual business owner. If they were they would see the ordinance is actually to their economic benefit. I don’t mean to say that with any sort of spite. The data is really there to see.

  12. What is a business owner to do? Let’s take the example of a Mexican Restaurant where the average owner makes 5 cents for every dollar of sales ( Here are a few economic choices:
    1) Shut Down and Fire Everyone. This has been questioned by several readers; perhaps it only applies to struggling restaurants and is not likely to impact successful ones. Several readers seem to be taking the tact of “goodbye and good riddance” to struggling businesses.
    2) Reduce Charitable Giving. Let’s take a successful owner, if the owner had previously taken a portion of his profits and given merit-based scholarships to low-income students, he can now give away less.
    3) Capital Investments & Layoffs. A successful restaurant might get a loan, buy a tortilla making machine, lay off his skilled tortilla maker, and keep up his charitable giving.
    4) Raise Prices. By raising prices, the owner might preserve his profits. An unintended consequence is the fewer low-income workers can now afford his product.
    5) Work for Free. While complying with regulation can be a low for a business owner, perhaps the title of entrepreneur is so glorious that the owner would be willing to start working for free in order to comply with the ordinance.
    6) Cut Christmas Bonuses. If the owner doesn’t want to cut charitable giving and doesn’t want to work for free, perhaps he can curtail or eliminate Christmas bonuses.

    Have we as a citizenry thoroughly considered real facts, the laws of supply and demand, and the realities of unintended consequences before demanding our elected officials enact this ordinance?

  13. I would assume this applies to the woman who cleans your house too. So get ready city council, that person who comes to your house to clean or take care of your children after school will expect sick time. Oh too bad he/she calls in on your busiest day.
    This is not a matter of workers solidarity. How many people who work full time, a minimum of 32 hours a week 30 weeks a year have no paid time off? Will companies that offer what is known as PTO now have to change their policy to defined sick days?

  14. 7) Getting politically involved and fight for Medicare for all, a basic right in all Western countries except ours. Every U.S. citizen would have health care coverage. Businesses wouldn’t be held responsible for taking on these costs, and it would take the insurance companies out of the equation, reducing wasteful overhead. Truman advocated such a plan seventy years ago.

  15. From a Business Owner perspective: This isn’t an issue about paying workers for being sick. Good Employers take care of their employees.

    This is about a Municipal entity taking on the compliance and enforcement requirements normally left to state and federal authorities.

    Whether or not the State will over turn this ordinance, businesses will still have the compliance and reporting costs to make sure they are aligned with this ordinance. They will also have the lobbying costs to visit w their trade associations and state representatives what a bad idea this is.

    This was passed to get it off the ballot in November: a masterful play of politics by our Mayor and Council. I think that’s the saddest part of all this-that our local Government is so morally corruptible and spineless that they would knowingly pass an ordinance like this and still claim to be friends to business.

    Say “Yes” San Antonio in November-it’s the only way we are going to change things.

  16. D1 will be term limited. Hopefully, COSA will not spend tax payer monies in a lawsuit for this inappropriate CITY ordinance!!! I am OK if City/County want to pay a “Living Wage” to their employee’s.

  17. City Manager Sheryl Sculley – $ 575,000. CPS CEO Paula Gold-Williams $ 445,000 + $ 261,000 Bonus. Robert Puente, SAWS CEO $468,000 (turned down bonus after shamed). All of these wages are controlled by the Council and their appointees serving on respective boards. All are paid by taxpayers/taxes and ratepayers. Outrageous. The problem with allowing council to approve a minimum wage for businesses .. those wages are NOT paid by the council members that approved them or the taxpayers that voted for them, they are paid by the businesses. Government does not suffer the consequences, the business does. Nirenberg is dishonest. He knows full well this measure will be struck down.

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