A vast majority of city council members in San Antonio, Texas voted to give all workers paid sick leave on Thursday.
According to the Texas Tribune, the new paid sick leave ordinance will allow workers to accumulate up to 64 hours of paid sick leave each year, or roughly eight full work days. Activists gathered more than 70,000 signatures on a petition to have the proposed ordinance heard by the city council. San Antonio Mayor Greg Girenberg was also in support of the measure, calling it “good for business and good for families.” The city’s paid sick leave is set to go into effect on January 1, 2019.
“Earned paid sick leave allows families to care for their health and make ends meet,” city council member Ana Sandoval said prior to voting in favor of the policy.
However, the new ordinance will likely have to jump over both state legislative and judicial hurdles before January, given the opposition to a similar paid sick leave ordinance in Austin, Texas’ state capital.
After a majority of Austin city council members approved paid sick leave in February of this year, Texas’ business lobby came out in full force against the ordinance. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) called the policy “unlawful,” saying it violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act (TMWA). That legislation doesn’t require employers to provide paid time off, and opponents of paid sick leave argue that the ordinance would require businesses to pay employees for hours not actually worked.
“The Austin City Council’s disdain and blatant disregard for the rule of law is an attempt to unlawfully and inappropriately usurp the authority of the state lawmakers chosen by Texas voters and must be stopped,” Paxton said in April.
However, even if paid sick days are struck down by the state’s courts under the TMWA argument, advocates may still be able to win a judicial battle at the federal level, citing precedent in Massachusetts. In January of this year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that paid sick time does not constitute wages, meaning employers wouldn’t have to pay out sick leave hours after firing an employee. Supporters of paid sick leave could feasibly argue in federal court that, under this precedent, the Austin and San Antonio ordinances wouldn’t be a violation of the TMWA.
Aside from AG Paxton, more than two dozen Republican state lawmakers in Texas have pledged to push legislation that would undo Austin’s ordinance, which would likely also be applied to San Antonio’s ordinance if passed and signed into law by Greg Abbott.
Advocates of paid sick leave counter that the policy is necessary for workers to recover from illness or take care of sick children without having to worry about meeting monthly expenses. Paid sick days would also likely help prevent foodborne illness. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that sick restaurant workers were implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks by spreading at least 14 different kinds of germs.
“Many of these outbreaks could be prevented simply by making sure that food workers don’t work while they are sick,” the CDC wrote. “To prevent food workers from making their customers sick, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code, which provides the basis for state and local food codes, recommends that food workers with foodborne illness symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea don’t work.”
Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.