Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The city’s Paid Sick Leave Commission, at its final meeting Thursday, agreed to a compromise on the minimum hours of earned sick time employers will be required to provide under the ordinance and struck down a delayed start date previously proposed for small businesses.
The commission spent nearly six months reviewing and refining the language of the ordinance to come up with a new draft that addresses concerns of all stakeholders and shield it from court challenges. The new draft is set to go before a City-led ad hoc paid sick leave committee for review on Sept. 10.
“I had concerns with the original draft we got from the other cities,” said Commission Chairwoman Danielle Hargrove, referring to similar ordinances passed in Austin and Dallas, both of which have been stalled by lawsuits. “We’ve had an ability to go through it point by point by point. None of it is a slam dunk – all of it depends on the court. … But I think we’ve addressed those concerns and I think the ordinance we’re going to put forward addresses any legal challenges.”
On Thursday, the commission approved a final proposed draft of what it is now calling the Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance.
If the new draft gets an OK from City Council in October, the ordinance will require all employers based in San Antonio to provide at least 56 hours of paid sick time per year.
As originally written, the ordinance required 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.
During the three-hour meeting, Hargrove reminded commission members that public health should be the lens through which decisions are made about how the ordinance would be implemented. One of those decisions centered on the minimum number of paid sick leave hours an employer is required to provide.
In a previous draft of the ordinance, the minimum was based upon the size of a business. But Hargrove said the hours of leave a person gets shouldn’t be based on who his or her employer is.
Some members of the commission also did not feel it was effective to measure a business by the number of people it employed, especially because numbers tend to fluctuate with seasonal hiring, while others argued it was crucial to carve out concessions for businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
In San Antonio, businesses with fewer than 100 employees make up 97 percent of all employer firms, said Diane Sanchez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, citing Census Bureau data.
With an agreement to equalize the baseline for all employers, the commission then discussed how many hours of leave were appropriate given risks to public health and the typical number of hours in a work week.
Seven members of the commission voted to equalize the baseline and change the requirement to 56 hours.
The commission also discussed probationary periods outlined in the ordinance prescribing when an employee is eligible to begin accruing and using paid sick leave.
Following a debate over a paragraph in the ordinance that allows for a benefit eligibility period not exceeding 180 days, which some felt should be reduced to 90 days, the commission voted against reducing the earn-and-use threshold.
In addition, the group voted to remove the delayed implementation date for businesses with fewer than five employees that was previously set for Dec. 1, 2021. All employers will instead be required to implement the rules of the ordinance starting Dec. 1, 2019.
The ordinance had been set to take effect Aug. 1. After a group of local businesses filed a lawsuit on July 15 to block the ordinance, the City of San Antonio entered into an agreement to delay implementation until Dec. 1. On July 24, a district judge approved the agreement, effectively giving the commission an additional month to refine the ordinance.
When the commission on Thursday reached the final section of the ordinance outlining effective dates, some argued again that the size of a business should not determine the compliance date. The later date applied to small employers was originally intended to allow those businesses more time to ramp up and comply with the ordinance.
“If we don’t give them the opportunity to get ready, I want to be prepared for that narrative,” said Joleen Garcia of the Texas Organizing Project, which was part of the effort to enact paid sick leave. “If we do remove this, and there was a protection there, then we need to be prepared to address that issue.”
Local food franchise owner Lisa Fullerton, however, said she thinks market forces are a bigger factor than employee numbers in determining whether a business can weather challenges such as what the ordinance may require. “Everybody is scared about this,” she said.
In the end, the commission chose to make sure most workers in San Antonio are eligible for the paid sick leave benefit as soon as possible.
“If half the population aren’t going to receive it, that counteracts our public health agenda to provide paid sick leave sooner than later,” Hargrove said. “What we don’t want to have happen is we do something that is contrary to what we set out to do.”
Deputy City Attorney Ed Guzman also reminded the commission that City Council could revise the ordinance if problems arise after it is implemented.
A majority of the commission voted in favor of eliminating from the ordinance a delayed start date for small businesses.
Hargrove will present the proposed draft to the ad hoc committee led by Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) on Sept. 10. The council is scheduled to hear a presentation on the ordinance at its Sept. 19 meeting and take action on Oct. 3.
While the ordinance is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 1, enforcement begins April 1, 2020.