Dallas is set to become the third major city in Texas to consider forcing private employers to pay their workers for sick leave, a move that is being challenged in court and by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, a progressive workers’ rights coalition, spearheaded the collection of 110,000 signatures on a petition asking that either the Dallas City Council approve the mandate or allow voters to decide on mandatory paid sick leave on Nov. 6, according to the Dallas Observer today.
The city secretary must verify about 65,000 of those signatures to give standing to the issue.
The coalition last month helped gather a surplus of signatures to put an identical question on the November ballot in San Antonio, The Texas Monitor reported. In February, the Austin City Council passed the first mandatory sick leave ordinance in Texas, to take effect in October.
Each of the proposals would require businesses with more than 15 employees to provide up to eight work days or 64 hours of paid sick leave, depending on the amount of time worked. Business owners employing 15 or fewer people would be required to underwrite six days or 48 hours of sick pay.
Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez told the Observer on Monday that guaranteeing paid sick days is an important way to address income inequality in the city.
“The people of Dallas have spoken,” Jose Garza, executive director of the Texas Workers Defense Project, said, according to the Observer. “They want their paid sick time, and we’re going to work with our friends in the city to make sure that they get it.”
Keeping it will require a favorable ruling from a judge. In April, the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for the American Future sued the city of Austin on behalf of the representatives of thousands of Texas businesses.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed an intervening plea in support of the lawsuit.
The Austin City Council passed an ordinance that would force business owners to violate the Texas Minimum Wage Act, offering a prohibited paid benefit, Rob Henneke, lead counsel in the suit, told The Texas Monitor.
An exemption created by the council for unionized companies violates the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Henneke said.
Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, the lead plaintiff in the suit, told The Texas Monitor he was “cautiously optimistic” the court would nullify the ordinance before in can go into effect. If not, the TAB will push hard for a remedy in the upcoming session of the Legislature.
“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.
Officials for Working Texans cited a study by the progressive Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimating more than 300,000 Dallas workers, roughly 41 percent of the city’s workforce, didn’t have access to paid sick leave. The same study estimated that 354,000 — or 39 percent — of San Antonio’s private workforce needs paid sick leave.
Two other progressive organizations, Work Strong Austin, and the Center for Public Policy Priorities have released studies in support of their advocacy. CPPP estimates that 4.3 million Texans have no paid sick leave.
None of these studies explain why so many businesses and their representative organizations oppose paid sick leave or seek to determine what mandatory sick leave might cost those businesses.
On the night the Austin Council passed its ordinance, Rebecca Melançon, Executive Director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, told The Texas Monitor no one on the council sought input from businesses and that activists in the audience were openly hostile when business representatives came to the podium to try to explain their objections.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].