Judge blocks enforcement of San Antonio’s paid sick leave law

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Bexar County District Judge Peter Sakai on Friday morning issued a temporary injunction blocking the Dec. 1 start of mandatory paid sick leave in San Antonio.

Sakai informed the plaintiffs, who are suing to strike down the paid sick leave ordinance, and the city that the case will go to trial. Sakai, however, set no date for the trial nor did he comment on his injunction.

The injunction is tied to lawsuits challenging similar paid sick leave ordinances passed by city councils in Austin and Dallas. The Dallas ordinance went into effect in August but the city is delaying enforcement until April 1, 2020. Days before the ordinance was to have gone into effect, two Dallas-area businesspeople sued in federal court, contending the ordinance violates the Texas Constitution.

Both those lawsuits also contend that paid sick leave ordinances would cost businesses millions of dollars and might force some to close.

Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance, the first of its kind passed in Texas, has been blocked since a three-judge state appellate court panel ruled in November 2018 that the ordinance violates the Texas Constitution.

Business leaders, represented by conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation attorneys, argued in their lawsuit over the Austin ordinance that paid sick leave is an added form of worker compensation that the city has no authority to require under the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

The appellate panel sent the Austin suit back to district court where it is pending with no court date set. Dallas’ federal suit is also pending without any date set.

Almost a year after the San Antonio council passed its original ordinance, building and contracting, manufacturing and restaurant organizations filed their own suit in July to block it. 

In early October, the San Antonio council voted to revise their ordinance, to differentiate it from the Austin and Dallas versions, stressing that paid sick leave is an employee benefit, rather than a wage as defined in the state’s Minimum Wage Act.

The council’s renamed Sick & Safe Leave requires employers to give their workers up to 56 hours of paid sick leave a year. The ordinance originally hewed to the template passed in Austin and Dallas requiring 64 hours of leave a year for companies with more than 15 employees and up to 48 hours for companies with fewer than 15 employees. 

In addition to illness or injury, the ordinance would also allow an employee to take paid time off for trauma related to domestic or sexual assault or to care for a family member. 

The changes were endorsed by the Paid Sick Leave Commission, made up mostly of the same people who advocated for the original ordinance.

However, the TPPF attorneys, representing businesses named in the San Antonio suit, and lawyers with the Attorney General’s office, which signed on with an intervening plea, argued in early November that the changes in the ordinance did not fix its legal problems.

Attorney Ricardo Cedillo asked Sakai for the temporary injunction so that the Austin suit appeals could play out, in the state Supreme Court, if necessary.

Barry Snell, representing San Antonio, and attorneys for the Texas Civil Rights Project, MOVE Texas and the Texas Organizing Project, asked that the revised ordinance be allowed to take effect. The state organizations backing paid sick leave in Texas have received millions of dollars in support from national labor advocacy groups.

In response to a request for comment Friday, Andy Segovia, San Antonio city attorney, issued a statement saying he disagrees with Sakai’s decision to issue an injunction. “We will evaluate our legal options going forward, including appealing this decision to the Fourth Court of Appeals,” his statement said.

After Sakai’s decision, City Manager Erik Walsh issued this statement: “The city would like to thank the Paid Sick Leave Commission for their thoughtful work and consideration in crafting this ordinance, which will afford working families the opportunity to accrue sick and safe leave so they can seek medical help, safety from harm and tend to ill family members.”

Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, told the San Antonio Express-News Friday, “We are very disappointed that today the hard-working families of San Antonio were let down by our judicial system.”

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