The Texas Association of Business intends to put the full weight of its organization behind legislation to stop paid sick leave ordinances passed by Austin and being considered in other Texas cities.
The biggest business organization in the state is “cautiously optimistic” Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance will get tossed out in a lawsuit filed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation,” Jeff Moseley, CEO of the TAB, said, in an interview with The Texas Monitor.
Moseley said TAB agreed to be the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit the Texas Monitor reported on at the end of April because “We had to stop the bleeding.” San Antonio advocates have gathered, unofficially, enough signatures to push for paid sick leave on a citywide ballot in November. Dallas advocates are gathering signatures in attempt to do the same thing.
Should there be delay in a court decision on the Austin ordinance and any other cities approve, however, it is clear paid sick leave will be a marquee issue in what has become a regular rite of the Legislature: blunting local overreach.
“We had heard the same thing was being done in other urban areas that was done in Austin, which is why we got involved, like Uber in Austin, which we consider an overreach in local authority,” Moseley said.
At the end of the 2015 session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that overturned a ban on fracking in Denton. Two years later, Abbott signed legislation rescinding an Austin ordinance that required drivers for ridesharing companies to be fingerprinted by the city.
“We believe the best place for sick leave to be settled is with the employer and employee, not with some vague and unenforceable ordinance,” Moseley told The Texas Monitor.
Progressive political organizations have responded as if to say paid sick leave will be a big issue. Earlier this week, the Center for Public Policy Priorities released a study estimating that 4.3 million Texans have no paid sick leave. While the study outlines what it says are the benefits to business, it does not address why so many businesses and their representative organizations oppose paid sick leave.
The progressive Institute for Women’s Policy Research published a study in conjunction with the petition drive in San Antonio last month estimating that 354,000 — or 39 percent — of the city’s private workforce are in need of paid sick leave, as reported by The Texas Monitor.
Work Strong Austin, a progressive coalition, came to many of the same conclusions in a report that coincided with the paid sick leave ordinance introduced by Austin City Council member Greg Casar.
San Antonio is getting an additional push on the left from the unions. “[Opposing groups] are gonna throw money into a pot to make this not happen,” longtime labor activist with the AFL-CIO, Linda Chavez-Thompson, told the Texas Observer last month. “We may not have the money, but we have the power.”
“Texas has a sorry history in terms of labor relations, especially with the non-unionized and poorest workers,” Joel Martinez, a San Antonio labor activist and retired Methodist bishop told the Observer. “So this grassroots effort — led by young people — is a sign of hope.”
But as The Texas Monitor reported at the time Casar’s Austin ordinance was passed in February, the paid sick leave movement has shown little interest in enlisting business support.
Rebecca Melançon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, told The Texas Monitor that on the night of passage, activists in the audience were openly hostile, when business owners tried to explain what the ordinance would cost them in lost income and possible staff reductions.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for the American Future, representing business interests, filed its lawsuit in part to express how businesses felt about the government forcing them to provide paid sick leave and telling them how much sick leave they must provide.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed an intervening plea supporting the lawsuit and Abbott said he fully supported legislation to negate paid sick leave ordinances, if necessary.
The National Federation of Independent Business, one of the plaintiffs and the state’s chief small business association, issued a statement that says the state is within its right to overturn these ordinances because they illegally order a wage to be paid for work not done.
“Local measures purporting to regulate employment practices, like Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance, create a patchwork of rules and regulations that are difficult for small businesses to navigate, especially for companies with mobile employees,” Will Newton, state executive director for the Federation, said. “These ordinances create extra work and significantly drive up the cost of doing business in Texas.”
In 2011, NFIB produced its own study in response to a failed congressional bill that would have made paid sick leave mandatory across the country. The study estimated the potential loss of more than half a million jobs and about $75 billion in work output lost a year to the mandatory leave. Half of that loss would be absorbed by businesses with 500 or fewer employees, the study said.
Moseley said the plaintiffs in the suit are hopeful their case could be heard and decided as early as October. There is no guarantee, however, that the city of Austin would not appeal its loss.
Statewide legislation, if necessary, would prevent cities from creating “a patchwork quilt with really no ability to define what, exactly, sick leave is,” Moseley said.
“We’d prefer the focus was on policies that create and maintain jobs in Texas,” he said.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].