Dallas joined Austin and San Antonio on Wednesday, passing a paid sick leave ordinance and waiting to see if the Texas Legislature or state courts will invalidate it.
The city council voted 10-4 to approve a requirement that businesses pay their employees for up to 64 hours or eight sick days a year. Mayor Mike Rawlings, who expressed concerns that the ordinance would not hold up under state legal pressure, voted against it.
“We won!!!!! Paid sick leave is the law in the city of Dallas!,” tweeted United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000 in Dallas, one of many national, state and local union organizations that have gotten behind the paid sick leave movement in Texas. National labor advocacy groups spent heavily to help get paid sick leave passed in Austin, as The Texas Monitor has reported.
Neither Austin’s nor San Antonio’s ordinance has taken effect because of an injunction granted in August by the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals in a lawsuit filed to overturn the Austin ordinance. In November a three-member panel of that court ruled that the ordinance violates the state constitution.
“The plain language of the TMWA [Texas Minimum Wage Act] preempts the ordinance,” Justice Jeff Rose wrote in the panel’s ruling, “and, as a result, the ordinance violates the Texas Constitution’s mandate that no city ordinance shall contain any provision inconsistent with the general laws enacted by the legislature of this state.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a plea in support of plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He argued that forced sick leave was an illegal benefit under the minimum-wage law.
Rob Henneke, who filed the suit on behalf of several Texas business groups and individual businesses, said Wednesday, “The action by the Dallas City Council to adopt the union’s paid leave is unnecessary political theater that would actually harm employees were it not already declared unconstitutional by Texas appellate courts.
“Any way you look at it, the Dallas paid leave ordinance harms employees by interfering with their freedom to negotiate for their own benefits with employers,” Henneke said.
To complicate matters further, the Texas Senate two weeks ago passed two bills by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, which seek to prohibit local governments from dictating business policies on employees benefits,specifically sick leave.
The House version of the employee benefits bill, by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, is awaiting consideration in the House State Affairs Committee.
None of the legal challenges deterred Dallas council member Philip Kingston, an avid supporter of the Austin ordinance, who along with four other council members formally requested in early March that Rawlings schedule a council vote on the issue.
Kingston contended that paid sick leave is popular with the public, as attested to by a petition drive last July that garnered almost 54,000 signatures to put sick leave on a citywide ballot. The petition, however, fell about 900 signatures short of the number required to force such a referendum.
Kingston, who was not available for comment Wednesday, told the Dallas Observer last week a public referendum would have been preferable, but that a sick leave ordinance would still make a statement at the capitol.
“It’s a public health issue,” Kingston said. “We want to make sure that people have job security when they have an employer who’s a jerk, and we want to put the maximum pressure on these Republicans at the legislature to demonstrate to the people of Texas that the Republicans down there don’t care what they want.”
After the vote Wednesday, Jose Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project in Austin, issued a statement saying, the “Dallas City Council has done the right thing and voted to provide paid sick time to working families. We have fought for many years for this day and look forward to continuing to make sure that working people get what they deserve.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].