Rather than leave it to a vote of the City Council as it was done in Austin, advocates pushing to force businesses in San Antonio to offer paid sick leave to their workers are working to put the question to all voters in November.
Mary Moreno with the Texas Organizing Project told The Texas Monitor Wednesday afternoon that the groups intended to deliver more than 66,000 signatures on petitions to City Hall for verification Thursday morning. Based on the number of registered voters in the city, more than 75,000 verified signatures are needed to get paid sick leave on the ballot Nov. 6.
The groups are also circulating a similar petition in Dallas.
Although the ballot language has not yet been written, it is expected that voters will be asked to give the city the authority to direct all local businesses to provide up to eight working days or 64 hours of sick leave with pay, as was passed by the Austin City Council in mid-February.
The Austin City Council also agreed to a compromise that allowed businesses with 15 or fewer employees to offer a maximum of six days or 48 hours of paid sick leave.
The vote prompted the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for the American Future to file a lawsuit on behalf of several prominent business groups in Austin. Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an intervening plea in support of a lawsuit and Gov. Greg Abbott said he supported a change in the state law, if necessary, to preempt Austin or San Antonio’s local overreach.
Michelle Tremillo, executive director for the Texas Organizing Project, said advocates decided early on to bypass the City Council and take paid sick leave directly to the voters.
“We’re taking this to the voters because this campaign is going to be fought and won by the people of San Antonio,” Tremillo told the Rivard Report in March. “This is not just about winning an ordinance but about engaging San Antonians in reimagining our city as a progressive, inclusive, and welcoming city where everyone has a chance at opportunity and success.”
In most other ways, the effort is patterned after Austin, which became the first city in Texas and one of the few outside of the East Coast to have passed a paid sick leave ordinance.
Like the council members who pushed the ordinance on the Austin City Council, advocates in San Antonio have asked for almost no input from the city’s business community, Richard Perez, president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, told The Texas Monitor Wednesday.
“We had not gotten a single call, email or text asking us for our input,” Perez said.
The chamber has not yet done any study to estimate what paid sick leave would cost in additional overhead, or the possibility of reducing the workforce to cover the additional costs, Perez said.
“It’s expensive and there are lot of things business has to deal with already … particularly a business that has high turnover,” he told the Rivard Report. “If you provide sick leave and the employee uses it and then leaves, it’s a tough thing for a business to deal with.”
In a letter to the City Council, Perez explained that San Antonio is a city built by small businesses that need to have the flexibility to decide if they can afford to offer paid sick leave to their employees.
Fairway Landscape and Nursery, the business Perez’ father started in 1969, could not afford paid sick leave, nor could most of the other landscaping businesses that depend on small profit margins to survive, Perez said.
“We had a meeting of our board the other day and about 75 of our members were there and not one of them indicated that they want something like this,” Perez said. “Not one.”
The San Antonio Manufacturers Association also issued a statement in opposition to making paid sick leave mandatory.
The drives for paid sick leave in both Austin and San Antonio received boosts from hastily published studies produced by advocates. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research published a study on its website on May 8 estimating that 354,000 or 39 percent of the city’s private workforce are in need of paid sick leave. The study was built from two earlier national studies based on surveys, with numbers extrapolated for San Antonio.
“It is absolutely confirmation of what we already know, just from knocking on doors and talking to voters every day,” Tremillo recently told the San Antonio Express-News. “It’s just further proof that it’s critical to have a policy ensuring that all working families in San Antonio have access to take care of themselves or a loved one when they’re sick.”
Work Strong Austin, a progressive coalition, came up with its estimate of 223,000 or 37 percent of workers who needed sick leave in Austin, but did not explain how it arrived at that figure.
Perez, who served a two-term limit on the San Antonio City Council from 2003 to 2007, said the current council’s drive to get paid sick leave passed “comes from a good place.”
“We have a progressive City Council and I mean that in the best way possible. They want to do the right thing,” he said. “But if you don’t have a robust business community you are not doing what’s best for the overall community in San Antonio.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].