The state’s 2019 legislative session closed last week with multiple bills that likely would have preempted San Antonio’s sick leave ordinance failing to make the deadline for consideration on the House floor.
In a letter provided Tuesday morning to members of the City Council-appointed earned paid sick leave committee, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that as a result, the city would continue moving forward with implementing the ordinance locally.
“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.
Committee members, which include hourly-wage workers, business owners, and advocates were joined at their monthly meeting by Colleen Bridger, interim assistant city manager, and City Manager Erik Walsh, who said that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District director would be the authority on policies and procedures for paid sick leave.
“The health department has been working diligently on this behind the scenes, and will hire the four staff we will need before the end of June,” Bridger said “Those four staff will do the lion’s share of the work to make sure the ordinance is clear and understandable for both businesses and employees.”
Bridger had been Metro Health’s director since 2017, but was appointed in March to interim assistant city manager when Walsh took over for Sheryl Sculley. Bridger told the Rivard Report that for the purposes of paid sick leave, she will lead the implementation as Metro Health’s director, a department she oversees in her interim role along with immigration services, the Parks and Recreation Department, Human Services Department, and the Office of Equity.
Several committee members voiced concerns over how it appeared the City was moving forward on implementing an ordinance that they had been appointed to review and amend.
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, asked City representatives to clarify the intention of the committee, which has held just three one-hour meetings since forming in April, and has yet to review and discuss the entire ordinance.
“When I agreed to be on this committee, it was my understanding that we were here to make recommendations regarding the ordinance, and we haven’t had a conversation about this as a committee,” Fullerton said. “Implementing the ordinance on [August 1] seems a little cart before the horse.”
Committee member Reverend C.J. Littlefield echoed this sentiment, saying that pushing through the language in the ordinance without giving the committee enough time to review it and make suggestions is an example of, “fishing in the dark when you don’t have bait.”
“There are still some things this group is not clear on yet. I just don’t like things to be rushed in a haphazard way. I just don’t feel comfortable when we haven’t been able to review some of these things in this package,” Littlefield said.
In response, Bridger was matter-of-fact, stating, “because City Council passed the ordinance, it goes into effect August 1. My job is to implement ordinances that the City Council passes.”
She went on to say that while it might appear as if City government is pushing through the ordinance without full consideration of the language and impact locally, the health department had been working on the ordinance since it was passed, and was well-versed in creating and implementing programs and procedures seemingly last-minute.
“The health department is the entity that deals with emerging infectious disease – we often have to figure out how to deal with something when we weren’t fully prepared or informed,” Bridger said. “We are used to building the plane as we fly in it. And while your points are valid [regarding the idea that we are rushing through examining the ordinance], I have the utmost confidence in our ability to roll this out successfully.”
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.
If inclined, committee members can make recommendations to City Council so they can clarify the language and make changes to the ordinance, Bridger said.
As the meeting drew to a close, committee members agreed to meet more frequently ahead of June 20, the last City Council meeting before the July recess.
Committee chair Danielle Hargrove, a local labor and employment lawyer appointed by Pelaez to chair the citizen committee, said the committee would continue to pore over the language in the ordinance to ensure “nothing written in the ordinance will be left unturned.”
“We still want several eyes looking [at] it, that way we can point out and address any gray areas,” she said. “We are past the point of talking about the pros and cons of paid sick leave. The decision has been made, so all we can do is continue to come together to discuss the language and how to make sure it’s enforceable.”
The next citizen-led paid sick leave committee meeting will take place on Wednesday, June 12, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the City of San Antonio Development and Business Services Center at 1901 South Alamo. All committee meetings are open to the public.