Texas Attorney General to City: ‘Reject the Proposed Paid Sick Leave Ordinance’

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Atty Gen. Ken Paxton

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the City of San Antonio in November 2018, alleging that officials there had violated the law in December 2017.

In a Monday letter sent to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said a proposed paid sick leave ordinance in San Antonio would “conflict directly” with State law. 

Minimum wage, which includes the minimum amount of paid time off, is set by the Texas Legislature, not local jurisdictions, Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s letter comes on the heels of a local push to get a paid sick leave ordinance on the municipal ballot in the November election. A coalition of advocates in late May submitted more than 144,000 petition signatures – more than double the requisite 69,950 – for verification to the City attorney.

If enacted through a vote by City Council or the public, nearly all private-sector employees in San Antonio would earn paid sick leave.

The language in Paxton’s letter mirrors the attorney general’s opposition to the City of Austin’s recently passed employer paid sick leave ordinance, which he called “unlawful.” Passed in a 9-2 vote on Feb. 16, the ordinance is slated to go into effect in October.

“The argument that the attorney general is using [in San Antonio] is the same he used and lost in his case against Austin,” said Michelle Tremillo, co-founder and executive director of San Antonio’s chapter of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), one of several local organizations that comprise the coalition Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave. “The judge [didn’t] think it’s a good argument.”

After hearing two days worth of testimony, Travis County State District Court Judge Tim Sulak on June 26 denied a temporary injunction supported by Paxton against the City of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. Plaintiffs, including the Texas Association of Business, had argued against what they considered prohibitive costs associated with the measure.

While Tremillo remains unfazed by Paxton’s call to reject the initiative, Nirenberg said Austin’s struggles give local government officials “a lot to consider.”

“Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance is being contested in court, and now Attorney General Paxton has asked us to reject the proposed ordinance,” Nirenberg said. “We need to weigh all of the factors carefully.”

More than 350,000 San Antonio workers currently do not have access to paid sick time. If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the ordinance would require employers in the city to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at six or eight days annually depending on the size of the business. It would also allow parents to take time off to care for sick children.

Ten states and Washington D.C. currently mandate paid sick leave, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, despite federal law not requiring employers to provide workers with paid or unpaid leave.

The State of Texas also does not require sick leave to be provided to employees.

“We are working to make sure that all people in San Antonio can take care of their families if they get sick,” Tremillo said. “They have the right to do so.”

Tremillo noted several studies that paid sick days and paid family leave do not lead to increased unemployment. A 2017 study by the Center for American Progress indicates that family-friendly policies, including paid sick days, are not morale or “job killers;” rather, the study says they strengthen the economy by improving labor force participation.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said City Council must remain transparent about the petition for paid sick leave and its implications. “This will affect our residents and our business community,” Brockhouse said. “Now isn’t the time for partisan politics.”

San Antonio should focus on protecting itself “from legal exposure with sound legal analysis and recommendations,” he said. “The [attorney general]’s letter must be respected, and we must also adhere to the Charter requirement for petitions.

“It’s a tough spot to be in, but if we follow the law, we will make the right decisions.”

14 thoughts on “Texas Attorney General to City: ‘Reject the Proposed Paid Sick Leave Ordinance’

  1. California made sick leave state law years ago. Its more or less a settled issue there. I say San Antonio needs to push forward and pass it. Austin did so already I believe.

    • What’s “settled” is that more and more businesses (and people) are leaving California and moving to Texas. It’s not a coincidence.

      • Can you link me to data to back up your claim?

        Personally it’s about workers rights to live. If they have to come to work because they can’t afford to stay home when sick they get more employees sick and the office loses even more productivity. Its that simple really. I am perplexed that not everyone is on board. Its a smart health policy.

        California passed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act in 2014.

  2. Competition among employers is what brings the better incentives. Whether or not an employer gives any (or which) incentives is agreement between employee and employer. Don’t like what an employer has as far as incentives go? Then don’t work for them. Regulating businesses in this manner is inappropriate. Regulate government agencies? Go for it.

    • It’s not always that easy or simple to just change jobs. Some people lack the credentials to change careers or have family commitments that keep them tied to a certain schedule. It seems unfair to place the blame for not having sick leave on the workers themselves. The Texas Association of Business and its ilk oppose this ordinance because it forces them to put employees’ needs ahead of profits.

    • I agree with RC. and add working people who decide to have children understand (or should know) that doing so comes with certain sacrifices. It is not the employers’ job to take care of family matters. And it is, not the taxpayer’s problem either. Sick leave is just another way for unworthy people to take time off, its time to grow up and be accountable for your actions in life, not the employer. People are become more & lazier and are looking for different ways to not work.

      • Get back to work….

        You couldn’t be more wrong in your assessment of sick leave. I am lucky to have both sick leave and vacation time. Last year, I had to have surgery and was out of work for seven weeks. I’m not lazy or unworthy as you are implying. Without that sick/vacation time, I would have been living on my short term disability which only covers 70% of my paycheck. For those who live pay-check to pay-check it can be difficult. Also, some of the less scrupulous employers will terminate employees if they miss too much time being sick.

        Your use of blanket condemnation is unsettling and unnecessary. Behind every person is their personal story. Unless you know and understand that, then you have no right to put the person on your ‘unworthy’ and lazy list.

  3. It’s clear that by some of the comments workers are not respected in San Antonio.
    The need for organizing unions is needed more than ever.

  4. The state of Texas always says they are in favor of “local control,” except when it interferes with what the state government wants the locals to do. Sick of the hypocrisy.

  5. So what is PTO? Personal time off? It was used so you wouldn’t have to lie about how or why you are taking off.
    I understand, however, that this is really about hourly/contract employees. This problem should not be on the backs of taxpayers but the employers who use such tactics so as not to pay for benefits. I have been fortunate to work for employers who prefer that I work full time.
    The State of Texas already has laws in place, the city can not undermine the state. Perhaps working for laws that fine employers who have a certain percentage of their employees defined as contract should be passed?

  6. California had a State Disability plan that worked great . It was NOT funded by employers , it was funded by employees and manged by the State . A minimal amount was taken out of each employees checks (yrs ago it was like 1.25) I am sure it would be more like 5.00 a month by now. When it was necesssry that an employee be out of work due to an illness /surg etc for more than a week ( or set no of days by the state ) then the employer completed the paperwork, which was mininual and a doctors signature was needed , the wages were paid out of the pre paid funds after or if they had employer sick pay , vacation pay, etc was exhausted. If there were no employer sick pay provided then the state disability plan picked up and employees were paid 75% or so if there regular working hours . They also had a clause in the plan that if a spouse was being moved with their job and you had to quit your job to follow , your employer would complete the paperwork stating such and you would provide proof that once moved you were actively looking for work and it would pay your wages (a percentage) up to 90 or 120 days to allow you time to settle and find work . Plans like this work , they don’t effect the employers income , the employees are paying for it and the state is providing the Dept to manage it . Numerous employees take advantage of having sick pay benefits (mind set of , use it or loose it) so you have employees out just to not loose a benefit that’s being provided by their employers .

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