Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger sees some benefit to having more time to refine the language in the paid sick leave ordinance that is set to take effect on Aug. 1.
Bridger, who is in charge of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, which will oversee the implementation of the ordinance, told the Rivard Report on Wednesday that a potential injunction from a recently filed lawsuit would give the health department a chance to iron out what has become often disputed and sometimes confusing ordinance language.
“I see more pros than cons to a delayed implementation at this point,” Bridger said.
The lawsuit, filed by a group of local businesses, including the San Antonio Restaurant Association, Associated Builders and Contractors of South Texas, and the San Antonio Manufacturers Association earlier this week, has a preliminary hearing set for July 24, just one week before the Aug. 1 deadline. The ordinance requires employers of a certain size to provide minimum paid sick leave for workers. The litigation seeks to temporarily delay implementation while the case is being decided.
Metro Health has been holding a series of information sessions to help clear up some of the questions being asked by employers and HR managers. During a session earlier this month, several people left with unanswered questions despite Metro Health employees doing their best to clarify language.
“Employers are still analyzing what the costs will be because no one is sure how employees are going to use the benefit,” Andrew Himoff, executive vice president at VIP Staffing, told the Rivard Report after the last meeting. “Until we have a better idea of how employees will use it, it’s difficult to know what the costs will be. They can run scenarios, but we don’t know if those are accurate. It’s going to take time to sort out.”
The City Council-appointed Paid Sick Leave Commission met on Wednesday morning to continue discussions about how to improve the ordinance. The group, which is comprised of hourly-wage workers, business owners, and advocates, was established in April. The group’s original charge was to, by Aug. 1, 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.
However, in early June, after the Texas Legislature failed to consider any of the multiple sick leave bills on the House floor, Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced to the committee in a letter that the City would move forward with implementation of the sick leave ordinance on Aug. 1 regardless of any findings from the committee.
“Due to the Texas Legislature’s unsuccessful effort to preempt San Antonio’s Earned Paid Time ordinance, we have an obligation to the 144,000 residents who petitioned our government to implement the ordinance on August 1, 2019, as the law requires,” Nirenberg’s letter stated.
Still, the commission has faithfully met monthly and Commission chair Danielle Hargrove said that no matter how the pending lawsuit goes down, “none of the work [the commission has done so far] has been for naught.”
“We have every intention to try to make the suggested revisions as soon as possible to the City Council to consider,” Hargrove said, noting the commission was considering holding off on the Aug. 1 implementation. “We’re not in the business of doing things haphazardly.”
If the ordinance is implemented on Aug. 1, the appointed commission still would be able to make recommendations to change the requirements or clarify its language to City Council, which then would have to vote to accept any of the recommendations that come from the commission, Bridger said.
For now, both the Paid Sick Leave Commission and Metro Health will continue their respective tasks. On Thursday, Metro Health will host its fifth community information session from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Central Library, where anyone with questions about how to implement the ordinance can have their questions answered. The final information session will be at the San Antonio Food Bank on July 22 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The commission will continue to meet as a whole and in breakout sessions as they decide on recommendations for City Council consideration.
“We have a very specific charge as a commission: That is to continue to work until we’re told not to work,” said Alex Birnel, a commission member and advocacy manager for Move Texas. “Our primary focus is to continue to work on the ordinance language and to continue to present recommendations to council.”