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City Committee Directs Commission To Oversee Paid Sick Leave Rollout

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Members of the mayor's adhoc paid sick leave committee meet in the temporary council offices of Plaza de Armas

A San Antonio City Council committee charged with appointing a commission to oversee the city’s mandatory paid sick leave policy for businesses weighed the political impact of new bills from the 2019 Texas legislative session and an Austin court decision that could derail the ordinance.

The San Antonio City Council approved the ordinance last summer after Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave collected more than 140,000 signatures to either trigger a ballot initiative or require the council to pass it. However, two bills currently in the Texas legislature and a lawsuit over a similar Austin ordinance threaten its future.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg created the five member committee of council members in November. It is tasked to create “a Paid Sick Leave Commission and [establish] a process that incorporates the input of all stakeholders to arrive at final recommendations for Council,” according to a memo sent to council members. It’s designed to “explicitly target business input, and seek data and analysis regarding the impact of the ordinance.”

The committee members include District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez as chair; District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran; District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales; and District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval.

When originally passed, the ordinance made it mandatory for businesses with 15 employees or less to offer six days of paid sick time per year. Employers with more workers would be required to offer eight days of paid sick time. One hour of sick time would be accrued for every 30 hours worked. The ordinance went into effect at the beginning of January with some businesses expected to comply by August.

Employers that violate the ordinance would face a fine of up to $500 per instance.

The committee met Wednesday to understand the external factors that may influence the ordinance and appoint a citizen commission to oversee its implementation.

“Their scope of work is to come out of their deliberations with the help of city staff and other local experts on issues like wage and hour law … with a  recommendation as to how, if at all, the ordinance needs to be modified to give it effect,” Pelaez said.

Nine members of the commission were appointed Wednesday including, Al Arreola of the South Chamber of Commerce; Alex Birnel, policy manager for MOVE Texas; Lori Beth Rodriguez, family violence survivor; Díane Sanchez, the new CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Adelita Cantu, a nurse; Joleen Garcia, an organizer with the Texas Organizing Project; Danielle Hargrove, a mediator; Sasha Begum, an attorney; and Kausi Subramaniam.

Hargrove will serve as the chair of the commission.

“Where [the city council knows] they have challenges, it’s our goal to make it not be a challenge, not be a concern that they can move forward with some confidence,” she said.

Last year, an appeals court ruled that Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance violates the Texas Constitution.

SB 15, filed by State Sen. Brandon Creighton, passed the Senate State Affairs Committee last month and awaits a vote by the full Senate. The bill is on the Senate calendar, meaning it could be taken up at any time.

The bill passed by the committee specifically addresses sick leave ordinances. “A political subdivision of this state may not adopt or enforce an ordinance, order, rule, regulation, or policy regulating a private employer ’s terms of employment relating to: … any form of employment leave, including paid days off from work for holidays, sick leave, vacation, and personal necessity.”

The bill also previously stated it would not affect municipally enacted non-discrimination ordinances. However, that portion was taken out of the committee bill. San Antonio passed a non-discrimination ordinance in 2013.

A similar House bill is HB 222.

Written testimony submitted to the Senate State Affairs Committee by Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras explained the city’s next steps in enacting the ordinance but did not take a stance on the bill in favor or against the legislation.

Garcia was one of the organizers who led the gathering of petition signatures early last year. She said even with the uncertainty the ordinance discussion needs to move forward.

“San Antonio and its leadership has to do what’s right for its own residents,” Garcia said. “That means that in the face of challenges both at the state and at the court, we need to do what’s right and just honor the voice of the people.”

State Sen. Jose Menendez and State Rep. Diego Bernal both submitted bills that would require paid sick leave statewide.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org on Twitter at @Joeycules.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules