Members of the Texas Organizing Project protest opposition to paid sick leave.
Members of the Texas Organizing Project demonstrate in support of paid sick leave. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A group of hourly-wage workers, business owners, and advocates met on Wednesday after being chosen to provide a voice to City Council and represent the local citizens who would most be affected by the San Antonio’s paid sick-leave ordinance.

The ordinance, which went into effect Jan. 1 and is the target of proposed legislation in Austin, is undergoing this evaluation and potential modification because it was passed solely by City Council and not as a result of a municipal election. Language in the ordinance allowed for alterations resulting from feedback from community leaders and stakeholders beginning in February.

The current ordinance requires employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a yearly cap of 48 hours for small employers and 64 hours for those with more than 15 employees. Businesses with more than five employees must comply by August 1, and those with fewer have until August 2021.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and five City Council members – Rebecca Viagran (D3), Ana Sandoval (D7), Rey Saldaña (D4), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Manny Pelaez (D8) – asked the citizens committee to create revisions to the existing ordinance and provide feedback to the City-led ad hoc committee as they work to determine whether revisions should be made.

“Each council member elected two people to participate in the committee, and the Mayor selected three. Their one mandate is to craft an ordinance that stays faithful to the mandate submitted” and approved by City Council in October, Pelaez said.

However, Texas Senate bills 2485 and 2487, which override local rules mandating paid sick leave, were approved last week and now move to the House, where similar legislation has struggled to gain traction.

Local business owner Lisa Fullerton, president and CEO of A Novel Idea, which operates six Auntie Anne’s and two Cinnabon franchises in the San Antonio and San Marcos markets, said her family-owned business would prefer to draw people to the company with wages and benefits packages that aren’t mandated by city government.

“I am in the food industry, and we are probably one of the areas most impacted by the paid sick leave [ordinance] … due to the number of employees we have,” Fullerton said. “I agreed to be on the commission as one of the Mayor’s invitees to maybe get the empirical data as to why this is difficult for the business community.”

The committee will meet monthly until August 1, when it will either present its interpretation of the ordinance and how to best roll it out, or recommend a delay in implementation if more work needs to be done.

Danielle Hargrove, a local labor and employment lawyer practicing arbitration and mediation who was appointed by Pelaez to chair the citizen committee, said committee members need to be mindful of the Council’s July recess and start working toward changes to be complete in June ahead of the August 1 compliance date for businesses.

Jolene Garcia, a volunteer with the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), said she is serving on the committee in hopes of ensuring that the rollout plan meets the needs of San Antonio families.

TOP is one of several local organizations that comprise the coalition Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave, which submitted the 144,000 petition signatures in favor of the proposed ordinance for verification to the City attorney back in May.

“A challenge that the committee will face is, how do we honor all those people who petitioned our government and give them a policy that truly benefits working families?” Garcia said. “If we can achieve that, I think it will be historic.”

Committee member and corporate attorney Sarah Begum said the effects the ordinance might have on local businesses have been controversial, so the most important consideration will be making sure that “everyone is heard on both sides of the table.”

“We have to work to make sure that everyone has their say in how the ordinance ultimately is interpreted and rolled out so it has the best impact possible,” Begum said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.