The City Council chambers quickly became standing-room only Wednesday evening as nearly 300 residents, business owners, and an ex-mayor showed up for a community input session on a proposed paid sick-time ordinance.
More than 100 people signed up to share their views with Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council on the proposed ordinance, which would allow any employee working at least 80 hours per year in San Antonio to earn sick time from their employer.
If approved by City Council on Aug. 16 or placed on the November ballot and approved by voters, the ordinance would go into effect on Aug. 1, 2019, said City Attorney Andrew Segovia.
The first speaker was former Mayor Julián Castro, who expressed support for the paid sick time ordinance to overwhelming applause.
“What you have in front of you is an absolutely tremendous opportunity to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of hard-working San Antonio families in a real and concrete way,” said Castro, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama. “[The ordinance] is well thought-out, it is feasible, and 75 miles up the road, it is something that Austin has already done.”
What followed was nearly two hours of comments overwhelmingly supporting the ordinance. Mothers working in the service industry talked about not being able to pick up a sick child from school, and catching illnesses from co-workers who were unable to take the day off when sick. Survivors of domestic violence spoke about needing time off from work to deal with law enforcement authorities and mental health issues.
Just over a dozen people spoke against the ordinance, many echoing the Hispanic Chamber’s belief that the issue should be decided by the Texas Legislature in order to level the playing field for business owners throughout the state. Some expressed concern about whether San Antonio would be viewed as “business friendly” if the ordinance passes.
Rey Chavez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Manufacturers Association, said that while the group supports paid sick time for employees, its members do not support the ordinance as proposed, and suggested a more extensive evaluation its potential impact and effectiveness.
Other business owners, including small business owner Patricia Salas, said the City should not mandate additional financial strains, noting that many employers already offer some form of leave to their employees.
Ordinance supporters held firm. “If business owners think that they are doing enough – they need to know that they aren’t,” one said to loud cheers.
The allotted time for comments was cut from three minutes to two to allow everyone an opportunity to speak, and citizens spoke for nearly four hours. Mayor Ron Nirenberg cut people off when their time was up.
The City Clerk’s office certified last week that the petition had the requisite number of valid signatures needed to be considered by City Council or placed on the ballot. The effort was led by a coalition of groups called Working Texans for Paid Sick Time.
However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has warned Nirenberg and City Council that such an ordinance in San Antonio would “conflict directly” with state law.
Council members now have five business days leading up to the Aug. 16 deadline to get answers to any questions they may have about how constituents may be affected by the ordinance, which Castro said has been a goal for some San Antonio workers since 2010.
“I know that you all care about the livelihood of your constituents and this ordinance impacts folks in Districts 1 through 10,” Castro told council members. “If you decide to pass the ordinance, you will have tremendous support in the community. If it goes to ballot, a lot of people will go to the polls, and they will pack the ballot box with votes for yes.”