Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
With just more than two weeks before San Antonio employers must comply with the City’s paid sick leave ordinance, San Antonio’s business leaders are stepping up their efforts to block the ordinance from taking effect.
Aug. 1 is the deadline for local businesses to comply with the paid sick leave ordinance that went into effect in January. But business owners and their representatives, concerned over the added costs and impact to their bottom line, are taking 11th-hour steps against it, including threatening a legal injunction, even as the clock keeps ticking.
An attorney representing a group of local staffing agencies and the San Antonio Restaurant Association sent a letter Thursday to City Attorney Andy Segovia saying his clients are prepared to seek an injunction against the ordinance.
That move drew sharp criticism Friday from a top official of the Texas Organizing Project, which spearheaded the effort to get the ordinance enacted. TOP Executive Director Michelle Tremillo said her organization is counting on the City to “vigorously defend” the paid sick days ordinance.
“It is unconscionable that large temporary staffing agencies and corporate associations would attempt to deprive hardworking men and women the basic right to take care of themselves or a loved one when they are sick, particularly when these same workers are the ones who make their profits possible,” Tremillo stated.
“We applaud the numerous businesses who have chosen to respect the will of the people, and are moving to implement the ordinance. Enacting this ordinance is one way that businesses can show that they care about our city and its people.”
Meanwhile, local business associations are awaiting word on whether the Texas Supreme Court will hear an appeal of a decision overturning Austin’s paid sick leave law that could affect San Antonio’s ordinance.
The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin declared in November 2018 that a municipality in Texas cannot adopt a paid sick leave ordinance without violating the Texas Minimum Wage Act.
The City of Austin, which had passed a paid sick leave ordinance in February 2018, has appealed. Unless the Texas Supreme Court overturns the 3rd Court’s ruling, the Austin ordinance will be considered illegal.
If that happens, San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance, which mirrors Austin’s, also might be in violation of state law.
But the Texas Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear the case, and the waiting game has become a point of frustration for local chamber of commerce leaders as the compliance date for San Antonio’s ordinance is only weeks away.
The South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has joined with the North San Antonio Chamber and the greater San Antonio Chamber, and several other trade association partners, in filing an amicus brief appealing to the Texas Supreme Court to hear the merits of a similar case filed against the City of Austin.
The South San Antonio Chamber also has been working through Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and the City’s Paid Sick Leave Commission in an attempt to structure protections for small businesses if the ordinance remains in effect.
“We are advocating for basic protections such as employee probationary periods and protection of human resources processes as it relates to measurement of patterns of benefit abuse,” South Chamber President Al Arreola wrote in a message to board members.
“Implementation of such an ordinance exclusive to the city limits of San Antonio puts our businesses at a significant regional disadvantage during a time when labor stresses are the primary concern for most small businesses, and for this reason we are hoping for a statewide or federal remedy.”
“Pending such results, we are exploring all possible avenues to cease this ordinance as written,” Arreola wrote. He told the Rivard Report, however, the chamber board has not yet discussed joining with other local organizations in pursuing an injunction.
North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Cristina Aldrete sent an email to chamber members on Friday saying that the chamber has been working to show the City how a local paid sick leave ordinance creates challenges for business.
“While we agree that paid sick time is a valuable employee benefit, we firmly believe wage compensation and all related employee benefits are unique to each business’s ability to offer them and should be dictated by existing state and federal laws,” Aldrete wrote.
“We do not support imposing mandatory paid sick leave. No municipality has the right to intervene in the employee-employer relationship or impose what benefits businesses offer employees.”
The North Chamber is encouraging San Antonio business owners to learn more about the paid sick leave requirements as its implementation looms and business leaders continue their efforts to repeal the ordinance.
The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
In December, a coalition of chambers and other business groups asked Mayor Ron Nirenberg to repeal the paid sick leave ordinance.
At the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a spokeswoman said Friday the chamber hosted a joint meeting the day before with its small business and government affairs committees to discuss the ordinance.
“We have also been sharing the City’s info sessions with our members and encouraging them to attend,” she said, and referring business owners to the San Antonio Metro Health District website for answers to frequently asked questions.