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Activists supporting San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance interrupted City Council’s first meeting after a monthlong break on Thursday by unfurling a large banner above the council dais that read “No Trust.”
City Council approved a paid sick leave ordinance last year, but a Bexar County district judge approved an agreement July 24 to delay implementation of it until Dec. 1. It was set to go into effect Aug. 1. Mayor Ron Nirenberg and some City Council members opposed the delay.
While the city clerk called the Council’s roll, three protesters went upstairs while about 15 others remained below. The protesters began chanting, “What do we want? Paid sick leave! When do we want it? Now!”
The protesters – representing the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and MOVE Texas – attempted to display a second banner, but police officers escorted them downstairs and out of City Council chambers. Members of the public are not typically allowed on the second floor of the room. Stairs to the area are blocked by stanchions.
Council members largely ignored the protesters.
Implementation of the ordinance was delayed when the City of San Antonio reached an agreement with a group of business associations and temporary staffing agencies suing it over the law. The city attorney’s office said the delay would give the City more time to refine the ordinance. A paid sick leave commission has been studying the law and will make recommendations to City Council about possible changes to it.
The ordinance requires San Antonio 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.
The groups represented by the protesters oppose any delay or changes to the ordinance.
“When the business community has more sway with the council than the public, then we have to do something to get their attention,” said Joleen Garcia, a TOP organizer and member of the paid sick leave commission, after she was escorted out of the building. “We don’t have all the money that the business community has. We have people and we have our voices.”
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“We do not want to delay on paid sick time,” said Yaneth Flores, an organizer with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. “This is a really important issue to all of our community, to our working-class families that depend on policies like this to help them a little.”
Also on Thursday, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez issued a statement saying that while his group isn’t against sick leave, such regulations should be legislated on the state and federal level, not locally.
“Let me be clear, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce does not oppose sick leave,” Perez stated. “However, we do oppose municipally mandated employee benefits and pay, and we strongly reaffirm the rights of private employers to determine the best and most efficient way to operate a successful business, while remaining competitive in attracting and retaining a talented workforce.
“We believe that statutory authority for wages, compensation, scheduling and leave should remain at the state and federal levels and attempts to regulate the benefits that employers offer their employees is local infringement on private employer rights.”
After the protesters left, Council continued its meeting to discuss the proposed $2.9 billion budget, which includes $549,340 towards staff and implementation resources for the paid sick leave ordinance.
Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), a labor attorney who chaired the group of Council members that selected members of the Paid Sick Leave Committee, called the protesters’ actions “sophomoric” and said they should have remained to hear the budget discussion.
“Also, MOVE’s attendance at the last two paid sick leave commissions has been poor and [is] giving us cause for concern,” Pelaez said. “Being absent from important meetings isn’t leadership. Leadership isn’t found in a self-congratulatory tweet and leadership certainly isn’t found in a sophomoric stunt with a banner.
“I recognize that the policy and budget work isn’t as fun and attention-grabbing, but it’s where the serious people can be found. I’ll keep a place at the table open for them if and when TOP, MOVE, or anyone shows up to do serious policy work.”
Nirenberg said the funding in the budget is proof that “Council is listening” to the community’s desire for paid sick leave.
Organizers collected more than 145,000 signatures, more than double what was required, to get paid sick leave on the November ballot. Ultimately, Council decided to enact the ordinance on its own.