San Antonio Sick & Safe leave ordinance back in court

Business groups try to block ordinance requiring paid leave from beginning Dec. 1

A coalition of businesses and business associations is again attempting to block the City of San Antonio's Sick and Safe Leave from taking effect on Dec. 1.

SAN ANTONIO – A coalition of businesses and business associations is again attempting to block the City of San Antonio’s Sick and Safe Leave from taking effect on Dec. 1.

The coalition, including the San Antonio Manufacturers Association and the San Antonio Restaurant Association, was in court Thursday asking for a temporary injunction to keep the ordinance from taking effect until a full trial can be held. Their attorney has also indicated a similar, ongoing case involving Austin’s sick leave ordinance may help settle the issue.

Judge Peter Sakai said he would not rule Thursday.

The group initially filed a lawsuit in July to try to stop a previous version of the ordinance from going into effect. That resulted in the ordinance’s start date being delayed from Aug. 1 while the city updated the original ordinance.

However, the new plan, which goes into effect on Dec. 1, has not appeased them.

City officials have said about 340,000 people work in San Antonio and currently don't have paid time off. The city ordinance, which passed Oct. 3, requires employers to allow employees to accrue one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work.

The sick and safe leave could be used for illness, taking care of sick family members or for safety issues, such as escaping abusive relationships.

Ricardo Cedillo, the attorney for the coalition of businesses, argued the ordinance is unconstitutional and is preempted by the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which ties the state’s minimum wage to the federal government’s, which is $7.25 per hour.

By requiring employers to pay for sick leave, he argued, the city would be requiring the businesses to pay for time that was not worked and therefore requiring a higher wage.

The city, however, said the paid leave is a benefit, not a wage.

“So it’s not that we’re telling you, 'You’re now making $8.25 an hour,” said Deputy City Attorney Edward Guzman. “You may still — you’re still making $7.25 an hour, just that if you’re sick, you’re going to be paid for the time that you’re off."

Cedillo said he doesn’t agree.

“I can call a pig a swan, and it’s still a swan,” Cedillo said.

Looming large over the case is the sick leave ordinance from nearby Austin. The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled the city’s ordinance was unconstitutional.

The city of Austin has asked the case be taken up by the Supreme Court of Texas, which has asked for briefings from both sides in that case.

Cedillo argued that the appeal court’s decision is the only precedent available for the case. He also told reporters there’s a chance the eventual result of the Austin case could affect San Antonio’s.

“If the Texas Supreme Court were to rule in the interim, I would file a motion to say, 'I win. State of Texas already said — Supreme Court has already said, and I don't need a trial,’” Cedillo said.

Guzman told reporters it's still possible there won’t be a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court.

“So the Supreme Court could decide, ‘We're not going to touch it. We're going to let the Circuit Court of Appeals decision stand,’” Guzman said. “That decision isn't binding on the city of San Antonio and our judicial district. So it's informative, but it isn't binding.”

In the meantime, Guzman said, a delay would have “very serious” effects on the people who need it.

“So if it doesn’t go into effect, all of — all of those people that have the ability under the ordinance to take care of themselves from stalking, domestic violence, to attend to their sick children, they’re all affected,” Guzman said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.