Before the Austin City Council had even taken its final vote to approve a new requirement for private employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees, Republican members of the Texas Legislature were already saying they would attempt to overturn it next year. After the council’s vote, some businesses said they’d be forced to leave the city.
But advocates for workers said it was long past due for a city in this state to create protections like this for folks who often lose their jobs when they or a loved are ill.
"Requiring a private-sector job-creator to conform to the City of Austin's heavy-handed mandatory employee leave will not stand,” said Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin.
That statement came before the council listened to hours of testimony last week with the vast majority of the people who testified in favor of the proposal. “It is not government's role to mandate employee leave policies of the private sector. No local government in Texas can be allowed to mandate any private business provide any leave to any employee."
The vote came around 1am Friday morning after hundreds packed the council chambers at city hall to weigh in.
The ordinance, approved on a vote of 9 to 2, would require Austin businesses to give employees one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked up to 64 hours. Employees could use the time on themselves or to take care of a family member. Any unused time could be carried over to the next year. Employers found to be in violation could face fines up $500.
“It’s about damn time,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the employees’ union at the Austin school district. As a cancer survivor, he said paid sick leave offered by schools kept him and his family afloat. “I don’t know what I would have done or what my family would have done.”
Jose Garza, the executive director of the Workers Defense Project, told the council they were making history as “the first city in the South to ensure that working people have a right to take a day off when they get sick.”
But critics, including some in the business community, said the process was needlessly rushed because the council was pursuing a liberal agenda that would ultimately be preempted by the Texas Legislature next year.
“The council short-circuited the usual commission input process on this ordinance just to get something done before the legislature next year,” said one business insider. “It took over a year to get an ordinance passed previously because more input was needed. Meanwhile this comes out less than 4 weeks before tonight’s vote.”
Rep. Workman, the Austin Republican legislator, said that if he is reelected he will push to undo this when the Legislature meets in January.
"The State of Texas must and will protect the citizens from out-of-control city governments that harm our private-sector job-creators and economy," Workman said.
"Just as last session the state legislature was successful in preempting the City of Austin's ruinous ridesharing mandates and ‘linkage fees’ scheme, so too will the state legislature step in and protect job creators from the Austin Mayor and City Council's employee-leave mandate on private-sector employers,” Workman said.
"Regardless of costs and its impracticality, Austin's bitter pill of a private-employee mandate to leave work will be shoved down private businesses' throat because of the City of Austin's continued war on the private sector,” he said.
Workman and legislators who agree with him will no doubt have Gov. Greg Abbott on their side. Over the last few years, the Republican governor has taken a firm position against local control on virtually every issue.
In March of last year, in fact, he went so far as to say cities and counties should have almost no authority to create any local laws.
"As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to pre-empt local regulations, is a superior approach," Abbott said at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a pro-school voucher and anti-local control think tank.