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Judge Approves December Delay of San Antonio’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

District judge delays San Antonio’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance to December. It was set to start next Thursday, August 1.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
District judge delays San Antonio’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance to December. It was set to start next Thursday, August 1.";

San Antonio’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance will be delayed for four months.

Bexar county district judge Sol Casseb approved a request by the City of San Antonio and several business groups who are suing over the ordinance. It stops a rollout that was going to take effect next week. The decision comes two days after another judge denied the request to allow interveners more time to prepare.

December 1st will be the new start date.  Until last week, the city had been rapidly preparing and educating businesses on the requirements of the ordinance. It mandates that employees must earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Barry Snell is an attorney representing the city. He says delaying the ordinance allows for more time to adjust it instead of a judge blocking it entirely from taking effect.

“He made a ruling that will benefit the taxpayers of the city and save a vast amount of attorney’s fees and expenses and will give us an opportunity to have an ordinance that will actually benefit the people of San Antonio rather than giving lawyers full time employment for the next year while we fight against a battle that’s already been lost in Austin,” Snell said.

The 3rd Court of Appeals struck down a similar ordinance in Austin earlier this year. It’s now waiting on a decision from the Texas Supreme Court which could affect paid sick leave ordinances across the state. Currently the only major cities to have paid sick time ordinances are San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.

“We think the Austin ordinance was right but we think we can remove some of the objectionable features without hurting the ordinance,” Snell said.

The city was sued last week by a collection of business groups including the Associated Builders and Contractors of South Texas and the San Antonio Restaurant Association. Ricardo Cedillo is their attorney.

“The city wanted to be able to continue their work without having the distraction of additional litigation going on and we thought that was a good idea,” Cedillio said. “Let them see if they can fix it. The agreement says that if we still have objections to it on Nov. 7, we can come back and reboot and go forward with the injunction at that time.”

The city has a paid sick leave commission charged with refining the ordinance with input from businesses, workers, and the creators of the ordinance which includes the Texas Organizing Project and MOVE Texas. MOVE and TOP were two of the organizations who gathered more than 144,000 signatures to require the city council to pass the ordinance or send it to voters. The council passed it last August.  

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs say the ordinance violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act by requiring employers to pay above the minimum wage for the number of hours worked, which the city disagrees with.

“We don’t think it does, it does not,” Snell said. “This is not a wage, it’s a benefit.”

The Texas Organizing Project intervened in the agreement hoping to stop the delay. Ryan Cox, an attorney working for TOP and MOVE says the decision bypasses the legislative process.

“The ability for the city manager or the city attorney to essentially veto or amend any particular ordinance that they want just because some plaintiff has sued them about it is improper,” he said.

The ordinance itself has been embattled since it arrived at the council’s doorstep. It was unclear if it would survive the recent Texas legislative session with several legislators introducing bills to ban municipally mandated sick leave. All the bills failed.

H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, said the delay will allow them to organize the keep fighting for the ordinance.

“City Council has had time, after time, after time, to amend this ordinance and do the work they need to do but they’ve delayed, they’ve held off for the state legislature,” Galloway said.  “We just feel like with it not being implemented on Aug. 1 it is disenfranchising and taking money out of the pockets out of the pockets of working Texans.”

When asked what the next steps would be for the interveners, Cox said he would speak with his clients and an appeal was an option but he was not sure if they would take that route.

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