SA’s Paid Sick Leave Commission Watching Challenges to Austin and Dallas Laws

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Activists with MOVE Texas sit in the front row during the paid sick leave commission meeting.

At its first meeting since a judge approved delaying San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance, the commission tasked with refining the law discussed a new timeline for submitting its recommendations to City Council.

With dozens of paid sick leave advocates from MOVE Texas Action Fund and the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) Education Fund in attendance, commission members, who represent those organizations as well as the business community and the City Attorney’s office, reported on the ongoing work of subcommittees.

It was the commission’s first meeting since the ordinance, which was to go into effect Aug. 1, was delayed four months under an agreement between the City Attorney’s office and a business coalition that filed a lawsuit July 15 to block the ordinance. Bexar County District Judge Sol Casseb approved the agreement July 24 as the Paid Sick Leave Commission was in session in another part of downtown.

At the meeting Wednesday in a Central Library conference room, commission members acknowledged the general public seemed confused about where the ordinance stands in light of the delay.

The ordinance, which City Council passed in August 2018, requires San Antonio employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a yearly cap of 48 hours, or six days, for small employers and 64 hours for those with more than 15 employees.

Enforcement of the ordinance, by the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, would have begun in April 2020.

That’s why the commission was not working under a defined timeline before the judge’s decision last week, said commission Chairwoman Danielle Hargrove. A new timeline for the commission now calls for the group to submit recommendations for changes to the ordinance by the end of August.

“That’s our aggressive schedule that we’re giving ourselves right now,” she said. “Things could happen and that would change it, but that’s our priority right now.”

City Council will review the commission’s recommendations and could vote on whether to accept some, none, or all of them at a future meeting.  

“Ultimately, they make the final decision,” Deputy City Attorney Ed Guzman advised the commission. “They will take a vote and decide what they want to do in revising the ordinance.”

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Deputy City Attorney Ed Guzman

Due to the recent ruling, legal proceedings on the ordinance are abated until Nov. 7 unless City Council makes changes to the law prior to that date. If changes are made, and the plaintiffs’ concerns are not satisfied, then they have the option to reinstate their request for an injunction at any time, Guzman said.

The lawsuit was filed by local businesses that include several temporary staffing agencies, the San Antonio Restaurant Association, and the San Antonio Manufacturers Association. The State Attorney General’s Office also joined the suit, saying the ordinance is unconstitutional and violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act. 

During Wednesday’s commission meeting, Hargrove encouraged the group to continue working on defining and clarifying the wording of the ordinance, determining how to evaluate the effectiveness of the law once it’s implemented, and researching state and federal law that could pose challenges to the ordinance.

Legal challenges to similar paid sick leave ordinances in Austin and Dallas should be “instructive” to the commission, Hargrove said.

A state appeals court ruled last year that Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance is unconstitutional. Austin’s ordinance was originally scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 2018. The decision by the 3rd Court of Appeals is awaiting review by the Texas Supreme Court.

In Dallas on Tuesday, an Austin-based conservative think tank sued in federal court on behalf of two businesses to block the Dallas ordinance, which is set to take effect on Thursday. If the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals were to make a ruling, their decision would be binding for San Antonio as well, Guzman said.

“That’s important to know because we can’t move in a myopic focus because all of that could happen here,” Hargrove said. “So we learn from what happens with other cities. We looked at our ordinance based on what happened in Austin.” She said the commission would be smart to do the same with what happens in Dallas.

Near the end of the meeting, commission member and TOP community organizer Joleen Garcia requested that microphones be provided for members at the next meeting so that those in attendance could better hear the discussion. A City representative said microphones would be provided.

Garcia also asked whether the commission would allow the general public to speak at future meetings and if the meetings could be scheduled during the evening hours when more people could attend.

“It’s not just for interaction,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of interest in the business we’re conducting. My goal is that whatever any part of government does is that it be very transparent and accessible to the community. I’d like that information to be out in the public.”

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

(second from left) Joleen Garcia, Texas Organizing Project community organizer, speaks during the paid sick leave commission meeting.

The questions prompted a discussion among the commission members about the objective of the commission, and whether the meetings are meant for soliciting input. Some felt that there are other forums already available for submitting comments and questions, and others suggested a comment period at the end of each meeting agenda.

Commission members agreed to put the topic on the agenda for its next meeting, Aug. 7.

Michelle Tremillo, executive director of TOP, one of the organizations that gathered petition signatures that led to the ordinance’s adoption, said following the July 24 ruling that the group is angry “that city officials betrayed San Antonio’s working people” by agreeing to delay the ordinance.

“Any council member who favors watering down the earned paid sick days ordinance will be known as a council member who is against working people being able to take a paid sick day to take care of themselves or a loved one,” she stated.

After the meeting adjourned, representatives from MOVE Texas gathered in the hallway for a photo with T-shirts that spelled out, “NO TRUST.”

“The Paid Sick Time Commission is now part of a delay tactic to bring a slow death to this citizen-driven initiative,” said Drew Galloway, executive director of the MOVE Texas Action Fund. “We have no trust in this commission’s ability to protect the integrity of the paid sick time ordinance. Young people will be constantly looking over the shoulders of this commission, the city attorney, the City Council, and the Mayor, fighting to ensure paid sick time becomes a reality in San Antonio.”

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