Updated throughout at 5:10 p.m.
The San Antonio City Council passed a citizen-driven ordinance Thursday, mandating paid sick leave to be offered to workers at businesses within city limits.
The decision was 9-2 with council members Clayton Perry of District 10 and Greg Brockhouse of District 6 dissenting. The ordinance calls for one hour of paid sick time earned for every 30 hours worked, with accrual caps. The ordinance takes effect in January but businesses don’t have to comply until August of 2019; businesses with five employees or less would not need to comply until August 2021.
A petition with 144,000 signatures triggered council action. Thursday was the last council meeting before a deadline next week to place the item on the November ballot. Council instead opted to pass the ordinance outright.
Council members that supported the ordinance said it still had “some flaws” that needed to be worked out.
“My vote today is really more procedural and I want to make sure nobody celebrates my vote today as supportive of this ordinance because I think it’s flawed — well-intentioned — but flawed,” District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he supports paid sick time but agrees that ordinance needs polishing.
“We have not had dialogue, we have not had stakeholder input, we have not had analysis, and we need to have that if we’re going to have a long lasting permanent ordinance like this,” he said.
Brockhouse said he could not support the ordinance, saying the City Council was overstepping its boundaries.
“We should not be telling business owners how to run their companies, pay for their employees or what benefits to offer,” he said. “City Council enacting the paid sick leave ordinance puts small businesses and their employees at risk. Every dollar counts in the small business world, and it is unfortunate City Council elected to implement paid sick leave and bypass a public vote.”
Outside City Council chambers, Working Texans For Paid Sick Time and other grassroots groups celebrated its passage.
“Today we’re 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, a member of Working Texans, which estimates there are about 345,000 workers in San Antonio without access to paid sick leave.
Even though it passed, the ordinance does still have an uphill battle. The ordinance could face legal challenges from the Texas Legislature in the upcoming session. A similar ordinance in Austin is currently being challenged in court. Working Texans pursued a similar initiative in Dallas but it failed to collect enough signatures.
A letter from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated the ordinance would be in violation of state law.
State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, sent a letter to Nirenberg asking the City Council to not pass the ordinance.
“Should the Council adopt this policy, it will most assuredly face a legal challenge and will likely be overturned. Further, if this policy is passed, we are prepared to file legislation to rescind it and prevent the enactment of similar policies in the future,” said Larson in the letter to Nirenberg.
Garcia said they’re prepared for any challenges.
“San Antonio and all working families have always had to fight against people that try to take away our rights by whatever means possible but we know that we’re in the right in this issue,” Garcia said. “We are going to fight both at the city level, at the state level, and whatever it takes to make sure we protect the dignity of workers and protect paid sick time here in San Antonio.”
The San Antonio City Council approved an earned paid sick leave ordinance Thursday.
Council approved the measure, 9-2. Greg Brockhouse and Clayton Perry cast the dissenting votes.
41/ BREAKING: San Antonio City Council approves paid sick time ordinance requiring businesses in the city to provide sick leave to employees. 9-2. Council members @district10perry and @BrockhouseD6 are the dissenting votes @TPRNews
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) August 16, 2018
The ordinance makes it mandatory for businesses with 15 employees or less to offer six days or of paid sick time per year. Employers with more workers would be required to offer eight days of paid sick time.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said in a news release: “I have a childhood friend who felt she was in trouble with her mom every time she was too sick to go to school. As an adult, my friend asked her mom about it. It was then that she learned that on those days her mother was simply overwhelmed by having to choose between neglecting her ill daughter or losing a day’s wages — and the food and rent that they provided.
"It was with families like hers in mind that I voted yes on paid sick time today.”
Vince Kong contributed to this report