In an emergency hearing on Monday, a judge blocked – at least temporarily – an agreement between the City and a group of business organizations seeking to delay implementation of the paid sick leave ordinance in order to give more time for the law’s advocates to intervene.

District Court Judge Monique Diaz ruled in favor of MOVE Texas Action Fund and the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) Education Fund, which said they did not receive the required three-day notice of Monday’s hearing. Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked for the emergency hearing late Friday afternoon after submitting an agreement with the City of San Antonio to delay enforcement of the ordinance until Dec. 1. 

A group of local temporary staffing agencies and business associations filed suit against the City on July 15 to block the paid sick leave ordinance, which is set to be enforced Aug. 1. 

The court will consider whether to approve the City’s agreement with the plaintiffs on Wednesday. If the agreement to delay implementation of the paid sick leave ordinance is denied, then both parties will begin preparing for an injunction hearing.

The advocacy groups, which held a rally outside the courthouse before the hearing, are represented by lawyers from the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and applauded Diaz’ ruling as a positive development.

“This is what people power looks like,” said TOP community organizer Joleen Garcia, speaking to supporters after the ruling. “Today, our voices were heard. They wanted to rush and force our community and our city to come to a false agreement with the business community and we rejected that. The people of San Antonio are still in this fight.”

The latest battle over the paid sick leave ordinance, approved by the Council last year, heated up after the suit was filed seeking an injunction that would delay implementation of the paid sick leave ordinance. TCRP lawyers filed an intervention last Thursday that argued that their clients would be “substantially harmed” if the paid sick time policy is stopped from going into implementation. The next day, the State Attorney General’s Office joined the suit on the plaintiffs’ side.

Two attorneys from that office also testified on behalf of the plaintiffs and supported the agreement Monday.

“We proposed to the City that it made sense to stand down on implementation on the effective date of the ordinance to allow the [Texas] Supreme Court to act on the request made by both parties to review the 3rd Court of Appeals opinion,” plaintiffs’ attorney Ricardo Cedillo said, referring to ongoing battles over a similar ordinance passed in Austin.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Sunday tweeted his support for the paid sick leave ordinance – adding he is against any delays in implementing the law.

“Citizens have a sacred right to petition their government. More than 140,000 did so, lawfully, for an ordinance to provide earned paid sick leave for San Antonio workers starting August 1st. I stand by their rights and I stand with them.”

After the hearing Monday, he again stated his preference for starting the ordinance’s enforcement Aug. 1 “as written and enacted.” 

“It would be best to address concerns through the paid sick leave commission after implementation,” he said in a prepared statement. “City attorney’s staff acted in the manner they thought would best defend the ordinance. We share the same goal but not the same strategy. I remain firm in my opposition to a delay in implementing the earned paid sick leave ordinance.”

Also against a delay in implementing the ordinance are council members Ana Sandoval (D7) and Roberto Treviño (D1), with Treviño tweeting Sunday, “Thousands of families are depending on Paid Sick Leave. They cannot afford to wait any longer.”

However, City Attorney Andy Segovia on Monday reiterated his support for a delay in implementation until December to give city officials more time to fine-tune the ordinance if needed and educate affected business owners.

“The proposed agreed order to delay implementation of the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance preserves the ordinance, the work of the Council-appointed Commission and the ability of the City Council to make timely adjustments to the ordinance, if it chooses,” he stated. “By contrast, a court order indefinitely suspending implementation – such as what happened in the City of Austin – risks losing all of those things.”

At Monday’s hearing, which was attended by about 30 activists in support of the paid sick leave ordinance, TCRP attorney Ryan Cox told the judge that Cedillo failed to provide sufficient notice of the emergency hearing and that his clients’ right to due process was being violated.

“I filed it immediately as soon as I could,” Cedillo said of the agreement with the City to delay the ordinance’s implementation. “We believe that this will preserve not only the business economy but also reflects the desires of the author of the ordinance. And technically, it’s the City’s ordinance, regardless of how it came to be on the books.

“It’s the City’s ordinance to implement and it’s for the City to say when it should be ready to move forward with the implementation. The City has agreed it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to allow the passage of time.”

In April, with only four months before the ordinance would be enforced, a mayor-appointed Paid Sick Leave Commission, which is made up of hourly wage workers, business owners, and paid sick leave advocates, began meeting to review and assess the ordinance.

At a recent meeting, the group discussed the recommendations of subcommittees formed around definitions, compliance and governance, legal considerations, research and best practices, and implementation of the law.

As the commission comes up with its recommendations, the City Attorney’s Office is reviewing the input and writing proposed changes to the ordinance’s language to clarify issues around how it will be applied and enforced.

The group is also monitoring feedback coming out of public information sessions that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District began hosting in June even as the work of the commission continues, and business owners speak out against the new law.

Business owners opposed to the ordinance are awaiting a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in a suit against the City of Austin over its paid sick leave ordinance, which is similar to San Antonio’s. The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that the ordinance was unconstitutional and violated State minimum wage law. The City of Austin has appealed to the state’s highest court. 

“The city has not agreed the ordinance is invalid as written,” said attorney Barry Snell, outside counsel for the City. “The City admits that the fact the Austin court of appeals has so found is a serious matter and pause for concern, without a doubt. That’s why the City has a commission working on that, we should be allowed to complete that work before we go to war over our ordinance.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.