Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A district judge on Wednesday approved an agreement to delay implementation of San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance until Dec. 1. It had been set to go into effect Aug. 1.
The City of San Antonio entered into an agreement Friday with a group of business associations and temporary staffing agencies suing it, with the city attorney’s office saying the delay would give the City more time to refine the ordinance.
In a packed courtroom, District Judge Sol Casseb heard arguments from the plaintiffs and the City as well as from an attorney with the Texas Attorney General’s office, which had joined the suit on the side of the plaintiffs, and two political organizing groups backing the ordinance.
“I’m a practical person and this seems like a practical solution to abate this,” the judge said.
City of San Antonio outside counsel Barry Snell said the delay will give the City the opportunity to reach consensus among the Paid Sick Leave Commission members on what changes are needed to the ordinance.
“We think we can remove some of the objectionable features without hurting the ordinance,” Snell said, adding that an expected Texas Supreme Court decision on the legality of municipal paid sick leave law like Austin’s and San Antonio’s could delay such an ordinance for a long time.
“The City insists on total transparency in this process, that’s why we came to court to enter this agreement,” Snell said. “It makes complete good sense to allow us to make corrections.”
He said the City Council, which approved the ordinance in 2018, set the start date of Aug. 1 before the 3rd Court struck down Austin’s ordinance – similar to San Antonio’s – as being invalid.
“We choose not to fight on that round if we can avoid it,” he said. “We want an ordinance that can actually provide benefits to people.”
The ordinance requires San Antonio 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. Enforcement was to begin Aug. 1.
Attorney Ricardo Cedillo, who represents the business coalition that sued the City on July 15 over the ordinance, said that if the City and the commission do not resolve “defects” in the law, he will return to court and stop the ordinance with an injunction.
“The narrative that the business community is against paid sick leave, that’s a false narrative,” Cedillo said. “Many know that offering paid sick leave makes for a great workforce. … There’s no philosophical opposition to it. The opposition is to an ordinance that is being mandated, to an ordinance that has a lot of problems.”
Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Ryan Cox, representing MOVE Texas and the Texas Organizing Project as interveners in the suit, Cox argued that his clients didn’t believe the court had the power to intervene in the legislative process and delay enforcement of the ordinance as approved by the Council. He asked the court not to sign the agreement order and to allow City Council to vote on the agreement.
After the ruling, Cox said the battle wasn’t over.
“Where we go from here is still up in the air,” he said. “But essentially entering into this agreed order kicks the can down the road. The business interests are not going to stop fighting this and we’ll have this exact same battle today in December.
“No matter what, the workers of San Antonio are definitely not getting paid sick leave for the next four months, which they were entitled to in the ordinance.”
The City’s agreement to delay implementing the ordinance exposed a difference of opinion between the City Attorney’s office and Mayor Ron Nirenberg and some City Council members, who were opposed to any delay in putting the ordinance into force.
“City attorney’s staff acted in the manner they thought would best defend the ordinance,” Nirenberg said Monday. “We share the same goal but not the same strategy. I remain firm in my opposition to a delay in implementing the earned paid sick leave ordinance.”
Nirenberg was traveling Wednesday and unavailable to comment, a City spokesman said.
Following the decision, supporters of the ordinance gathered in front of the courthouse chanting, “This is not the end,” and “Vote them out.”
“We are disappointed in the ruling, of course,” said Drew Galloway, executive director, MOVE Texas Action Fund. “We believe there are working people in San Antonio that want this ordinance to happen … that’s what they fought for. This delay further disenfranchises those people and makes working while sick more of a possibility and losing income more of a possibility.
“We call on the council to take quick action on enacting the ordinance.”
Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, also challenged the council to address the issue. “This fight against delaying the hard-earned paid sick days ordinance showed which council members care about San Antonio’s working people and which are on the side of corporations,” she stated.
“We thank Mayor Ron Nirenberg and council members Ana Sandoval, Robert Treviño, and Jada Andrews-Sullivan for speaking publicly about their opposition to pushing back the August 1st implementation of earned paid sick days.”