City Council votes to require businesses to provide paid sick leave

After grassroots victory, state legislature, courts expected to block ordinance

SAN ANTONIO – In a 9-to-2 vote Thursday, San Antonio City Council members approved an ordinance requiring nearly all businesses operating within the city to provide employees paid sick leave.

Government entities and school districts are exempt.

The approval of the paid sick leave ordinance was a win for the Texans for Paid Sick Leave Coalition, which gathered more than 100,000 signatures in a petition drive supporting the ordinance.

After the council vote Thursday, members of the group walked out of council chambers chanting, “¡Si se puede!”

“Today, we are taking steps to ensure that all of our workers have the opportunity to take the time that they need to be healthy,” said Joleen Garcia, leader of the Texans for Paid Sick Leave. “When we're healthy, we're stronger together.”

Since the push for paid sick leave gathered enough signatures on a city referendum petition, the council had two options: vote to approve the ordinance or place the issue on the ballot for voters to decide in November.

District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry were the only two members who voted against the ordinance.

But many of those who voted in favor of it expect the state legislature or courts to fight the ordinance.

“I think it would be naive of us to think that the state legislature won’t make moves very quickly to pre-empt the City of San Antonio from enforcing paid sick leave,” said District 8 City Councilman Manny Pelaez. “I also think it would be naive of us to think that a court won’t enjoin the city from being able to implement this.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg expects the state to step in as well, but he said Thursday that passing the ordinance was the only way for the city to have input on the paid sick leave requirement, should legislators or a judge not take steps to overturn it.

“The action of passing the ordinance is the only opportunity we have to bring together different stakeholders who have differences of opinion and disagreements about how the ordinance should take effect,” Nirenberg said. “We have a year now to work out those kinks.”

Business owners with more than five employees have until Aug. 1, 2019 to begin providing employees paid sick days. Businesses with five or fewer employees have until Aug. 1, 2021.

The ordinance requires employers to provide employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. That amount would be capped at 64 hours a year for medium/large businesses and 48 hours a year for businesses with 15 or fewer employees.

Some businesses leaders and local chambers of commerce oppose the requirement.

On its website, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce calls the paid sick leave ordinance “an attack on the local San Antonio business community” and said it would have “have detrimental effects on the business community, especially small businesses.”

The city of Austin has its own paid sick leave ordinance that is now being challenged in a lawsuit in which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined.

The city of San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District will be in charge of enforcing the paid sick leave ordinance, which comes with a $500 fine for each violation.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said Thursday that the city has not studied what the fiscal impact of the ordinance would be to the city or how required paid sick leave would be enforced.  

Businesses that already provide the required number of hours of paid sick leave, or more, will not be subject to the ordinance.

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