Merced Leyva with the Texas Organizing Project stands up following the affirmation of Paid Sick Leave ordinance will be addressed either by City Council or by election in November.
Merced Leyva with the Texas Organizing Project stands in City Council chambers after the city clerk affirmed signatures on petitions for paid sick leave in 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A lawsuit by several local business groups looms large, but the City appears to be moving forward with the Aug. 1 implementation of its paid sick leave policy – for now.

A source with knowledge of the situation told the Rivard Report Thursday that the City was preparing to accept the plaintiffs’ offer to halt implementation of the paid sick leave ordinance as the legal case played out, but that agreement appears to have been thwarted by the intervention of activist groups.

Move Texas, the Texas Organizing Project, and San Antonian Marilyn Washington – advocates of the City’s policy mandating paid leave for medical reasons to eligible San Antonio residents – filed to intervene in the lawsuit Thursday as co-defendants.

Ryan Cox, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing the interveners in the case, said the City’s consideration of an offer by the plaintiffs to delay the Aug. 1 enforcement prompted the groups into action.

“The main reason why we felt it necessary to intervene in this case today was to make sure that the City wasn’t entering into any agreement that would severely prejudice the rights of the currently 350,000 residents going without any paid sick leave in San Antonio,” Cox said Thursday, hours after filing to intervene in the case.

In a statement Thursday, Deputy City Attorney Ed Guzman said the ordinance remains on track for implementation on Aug. 1 but that the parties in the lawsuit will continue to review the matter and discuss all options. Guzman added that the intervention by the co-defendants “will be considered as we move forward.”

Ricardo Cedillo, the attorney who represents the business groups in the case, said the offer was indeed extended to the City.

“I proposed to the City that they work internally and see if they agreed it would make economic and common sense to stand down [from enforcing the ordinance],” Cedillo said. “They told me they’d take it into consideration.”

Cedillo said a Wednesday article in the Rivard Report was the first indication he had seen that the City might have been close to accepting his offer.

On Friday, Cedillo and his legal team filed a motion to strike the activist groups’ intervention in the case, claiming the groups do not have the standing to defend the City’s ordinance and do not meet the legal threshold for intervention.

City Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who chairs the Council’s ad hoc committee on the policy, said the intervention of new parties changes the dynamics of the case.

“If the City was going to enter into an agreement to press the pause button on this ordinance until there is a new ordinance or until the work of [the Paid Sick Leave Commission] was done, then that probably changes once this third party has intervened,” Pelaez said. “I haven’t spoken to the city attorney’s office, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re having internal meetings talking about a change in strategy at this point.”

This means that a scheduled July 24 hearing will likely continue as the parties argue whether injunctive relief should be granted. The coalition of business groups will argue that enforcement of the ordinance should be paused as the litigation plays out. The groups claim that the ordinance is preempted by the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which prevents governments from requiring private employers to pay more than the minimum wage, and is therefore unconstitutional.

The City of Austin was sued in the 3rd Court of Appeals over its paid sick leave ordinance, and the court ruled in 2018 that the ordinance was unconstitutional and violated State minimum wage law. The City, however, is appealing that finding.

The San Antonio City Council approved the paid sick leave ordinance in August. The law requires employers of between six and 15 employees to grant 48 hours of paid sick leave to each employee per year and 64 hours for companies with more than 15 employees. Small businesses with five employees or fewer will be excepted from enforcement until August 2021. Each violation will be punishable by a $500 fine.

“Depending on the outcome of future legal action, the implementation date could potentially change,” Guzman said.

Cox said the paid sick time advocates object to “any kind of agreed injunction.”

“We have a disagreement [with the City] about the best way to move forward in making sure everyone in San Antonio has paid sick leave,” he said. “We don’t believe [delaying enforcement] is the right strategy for this case to achieve the goal of immediate implementation that our clients seek.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.