AUSTIN — The Austin City Council Thursday extended paid sick leave benefits to all of its roughly 13,500 city employees, including more than 2,500 temporary employees who currently receive no paid leave.
As it did two weeks ago, when it made paid sick leave for all private businesses operating in the city, the council voted 9-2, without an estimate of the cost to taxpayers provided by city staff.
The measure says only that available city funds will be “repurposed” to cover the new paid leave benefit.
State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, has said he intends to introduce a bill in the next legislative session to erase the council vote and to prevent other municipalities from forcing private businesses and taxpayers to support paid leave requirements.
Private paid leave, which will take effect Oct. 1, is expected to affect as many as 50,000 local businesses.
Council members Ellen Troxclair and Ora Houston, who cast ‘no’ votes for both measures, said Thursday they were concerned that Austin was willing to impose new programs without the council being able to consider the expense.
“I think it’s hugely irresponsible to take a vote on this before we have any idea of the fiscal implications,” Troxclair said Thursday. “I’m really disappointed we have moved so quickly. I hope this decision doesn’t come at the expense of other programs.”
Ellen Troxclair told The Texas Monitor after the vote two weeks ago she enthusiastically supports any state-level effort to rescind an ordinance that “was really unfortunate for so many reasons.”
“This was really a wake-up call for me that the city is run by a small group of socialist activists,” Troxclair said. “I think it should be shocking to everybody who this city is taking its marching orders from.”
Rather than too quickly, the vote has come too late for a program that should have been in place long ago, said council member Greg Casar, who drafted the paid leave for private business mandate and was one of the sponsors of the leave for city employees ordinance. The huge expense, he said, has come by not offering paid sick leave to employees in the past.
“I’m not going to be able to support this,” Houston told her fellow council members prior to the vote. “We have no idea what the impact of this program is going to be, no idea what the outcomes are going to be.”
As is the case with the private mandate, city employees will now be able to accrue up to eight work days (or 64 hours) of paid sick leave by a formula of one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked.
Unlike private paid leave, there was little public discussion of the paid leave for city employees at the council meeting Thursday. At its meeting two weeks ago, the council was unable to take its vote until early the following day because more than 270 people signed up to speak.
Most of those who spoke supported paid leave, but many of those who spoke against it – several owners of small businesses – complained that they had been bullied and booed by the audience and disregarded by the majority of the City Council, according to Rebecca Melançon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected]