Petitioners for a paid sick leave ordinance in Dallas are considering their options after a drive that produced 110,000 signatures but came up 871 signatures short.
Dallas City Secretary Bilirae Johnson told labor organizers her office was able to verify 52,885 signatures — short of the 53,756 needed to press the city council to consider a paid sick leave ordinance or place the ordinance question on the Nov. 6 ballot.
To be verified, signatures had to come from registered voters who live in Dallas. Johnson said her office disqualified about 30,000 signatures that could not be confirmed as belonging to registered voters. She told the Dallas Morning News on Monday that thousands more signatures came from those who live outside the city.
“We have some concerns about how the validation process was conducted,” said a statement from Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, the petition organizer, in response to a Texas Monitor inquiry. “We spoke to the city secretary this morning and have requested additional information for review. The City of Dallas ignores these voices to the detriment of Dallas families, local businesses, and economy. We are considering all available options, including legal action, to ensure the voices of working people in Dallas are heard.”
The Texas Monitor also contacted the offices of the Workers Defense Project, another member of the statewide paid sick leave coalition, to ask what alternatives organizers have in the wake of the near-miss petition drive in Dallas. No one from the office had returned a call at the time this story was published.
The failure of the petition continues a string of challenges faced by proponents of mandated paid sick leave for employees that began in February after the Austin City Council passed a sick leave ordinance.
State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, said he intends to file a bill in the next legislative session striking down the Austin ordinance, which would force businesses to provide employees up to eight work days (or 64 hours) of paid sick leave beginning Oct. 1, and other ordinances like it.
In April, the Center for the American Future, a project of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, filed suit on behalf of business groups to overturn the ordinance.
A week later, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a plea in intervention, maintaining that the Austin ordinance mandates a benefit that violates the state’s minimum wage law. At the same time, Gov. Greg Abbott said he supported a legislative remedy to stop the spread of city-mandated benefits requirements placed on private businesses.
“These policies will be crushing, especially for small businesses, by imposing a heavy-handed mandate that will cause these small businesses to have to pay even more out of their own pockets,” Abbott said at the time.
As San Antonio considers a similar ordinance, Paxton sent a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the city council July 9 warning them state law supersedes any such ordinance.
“We write to inform you that no matter the council’s decision or the result of any ballot initiative, Texas law pre-empts a municipal paid sick leave ordinance,” Paxton said in the letter.
A spokesman for City Attorney Andrew Segovia told the San Antonio Express-News Paxton’s letter is not legally binding.
Unlike in Dallas, it appears that Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, a coalition of labor organizers, has the necessary 69,950 signatures in San Antonio. Petitioners submitted 144,000 signatures in May and word went out that City Clerk Leticia Vacek had verified the requisite number, although Segovia said the city’s charter requires a formal announcement at the next scheduled city council meeting Aug. 2.
Like the Austin ordinance, the San Antonio measure would require private for-profit and nonprofit businesses with more than 15 employees to pay for up to eight sick days a year, depending on the number of hours an employee works. Businesses with 15 or fewer employees would be required to pay for up to six days of sick leave.
The San Antonio City Council has less time than it normally would to respond to the petitions. If the San Antonio petitions are officially certified on Aug. 2, the council would have 60 days under city ordinance to either consider a sick-leave ordinance or put it on the ballot. However, the state has set an Aug. 20 deadline for getting any measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].