District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña’s attempt to get the City of San Antonio to signal opposition to State legislation aimed at overruling the City’s paid sick leave ordinance split City Council’s vote on Thursday. His motion failed 6-5.
Advocates for workers and LGBTQIA rights have been lobbying City Council to oppose Senate Bill 15 and other related bills for weeks. If passed, the bill would prohibit cities from requiring private employers to offer paid sick leave. Some say San Antonio’s nondiscrimination law would be largely left intact but that the legislation could threaten several major cities’ ability to enforce anti-discrimination laws.
The City passed its paid sick leave ordinance in August and agreed to a “thoughtful” process to adjust it as needed, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “We should allow that process to continue in the event we still have the authority.”
Maintaining local control – the ability for a City to make its own governing decisions – has long been a priority of this and previous City Councils, Saldaña said. The State has a longstanding habit of making laws that preempt local laws. “The question for us is if we will stand up [against] any bill that’s a preemption.”
His motion included other bills that threaten local control, but Intergovernmental Relations Director Jeff Coyle pointed out that there already is a Council-supported statement as part of its legislative agenda that does that.
The State legislation would prevent individual cities and counties from adopting local ordinances related to employment. At first, it included language specifically prohibiting interference with local nondiscrimination rules, but that was later removed.
The exception for the paid sick leave is born out of the context that the issue is also being decided in state court. Nirenberg said. “This is an issue that the court and the Legislature have already said they’re going to decide and I don’t think it’s prudent for us to take a position beyond neutral on those particular bills.”
The business community strongly objected to the paid sick leave ordinance, which was brought to City Council by way of citizen petition last year. More than 70,400 signatures were collected by Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, a coalition of local organizations.
“We’re continuing to fight this at the state Legislature – we’re not going to let up,” Texas Organizing Project leader Jolene Garcia said after the vote. “It’s disappointing that the City of San Antonio [Council members] would shoot themselves in the foot like this. This is a law that they passed – that we all passed – we brought it to the City … now the mayor is turning his back.”
The upcoming election and the need for the business community’s support likely played a part in some Council members’ decisions, Garcia said, but at least they showed their true colors.
“It shows whether they have a desire to fight for working families – they just don’t have it in them,” she said.
The local paid sick leave ordinance is not perfect, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said, but the local control issue should be reason enough to oppose this legislation.
“As a Council we need to go forward with always protecting local control,” Gonzales said.
Saldaña and Gonzales were joined by Councilwomen Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Ana Sandoval (D7) as well as Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) in support of opposing the legislation.
Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who voted against opposing the bills, wants paid sick leave for all employees and more local control but that the City knew it was going to face challenges in court and at the Legislature.
“I am disappointed that we didn’t flesh this out at committee,” Pelaez said. At the last Intergovernmental Relations Committee, only Pelaez and Saldaña were present and therefore a quorum was not reached – therefore no consensus could be reached. “We’re here today skipping over the important work that committees do.”
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Pelaez joined Nirenberg and Councilmen Greg Brockhouse (D6), Art Hall (D2), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10).
“While in previous Councils this was left up to the [Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee] more votes and more discussion is not a bad thing when we have an issue like the one we have here where there’s clearly a preemptive issue,” Saldaña said.
Brockhouse, who is challenging Nirenberg for his seat in the May 4 election, voted on the same side as the mayor – a rare occasion as of late – but for different reasons.
“Local control … is not all-encompassing,” Brockhouse said. “Municipalities and people, period, we may make decisions that step outside our boundaries and violate state or federal law, in which case local control will not apply.”