North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Cristina Aldrete speaks on the business community's opposition to the paid sick leave ordinance. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

A coalition of local leaders representing thousands of San Antonio business owners on Monday asked Mayor Ron Nirenberg to repeal the paid sick leave ordinance set to take effect in the new year.

In a letter addressed to Nirenberg and City Council members, the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Business Coalition reacted to the mayor’s appointment of a committee intended to gather input from stakeholders and make recommendations to revise the paid sick leave ordinance. That move followed a court ruling by the Third Court of Appeals that held that Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance, passed in February, is preempted by state law. 

“While we appreciate your efforts to reach out to the business community and include our input, there is no value for either the City or our organizations in investing time in discussing revisions to an unlawful ordinance,” stated members of the coalition, which includes leaders of nine local business advocacy organizations, from chambers of commerce to industry groups.

City Council in August approved the ordinance that would make paid sick leave a reality for more than 350,000 workers in San Antonio. Rather than putting the issue on the municipal ballot, Council opted to approve the measure as is.

“City Council faced the choice of passing the ordinance or putting it on the ballot,” Nirenberg said in a Monday statement. “The council’s action preserved the flexibility to craft a San Antonio-specific policy before any business is required to comply.”

In November, Nirenberg created an ad hoc committee charged with not only reviewing options for revising the recently adopted paid sick leave ordinance, but also creating a Paid Sick Leave Commission.

“We will continue with that process to develop a plan that is right for San Antonio if lawmakers and the courts leave municipal paid sick leave ordinances in effect next year,” Nirenberg said.

San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1. The requirements of businesses are not effective until August.

The controversial measure was widely opposed in the business community after Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, a coalition of advocacy groups, submitted more than 140,000 petition signatures in favor of the ordinance in May.

At the time, Ramiro Cavazos, then-president of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, addressed the issue with City Council, saying while the chamber supports the concept of paid sick leave, it should not be implemented in a “prescriptive manner.” The decision to make it legally binding should be made at the state level to ensure fair business practices, he said.

“We firmly believe this is an issue between the employer and the employee,” said Steven Schultz, president of the South Texas chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, at a press conference Monday. “It’s not something you can negotiate. Each company is operated differently.”

North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Cristina Aldrete said City Council, in approving the ordinance, did what the signatories on the paid sick leave petition wanted them to do. “From the business community standpoint, we have to take a stand,” she said. “We have to make sure they understand it is not a city’s place to tell businesses how to run their business and what they can offer their employees.”

The letter sent Monday asked Council to recognize the Third Court of Appeals’ ruling and the Texas Attorney General’s position against the paid sick leave ordinance, and to initiate the repeal process. “Our organizations look forward to working with you and the City Council on the repeal process, and hope that we can continue a dialogue on issues that impact the economic vitality of our City,” the letter states.

Rob Killen, general counsel for the Real Estate Council of San Antonio, said if the paid sick leave proposition had been placed on the ballot and approved by voters, that ordinance could not be changed for six months, per City charter. But because it was approved by Council instead, there’s no provision in the City charter about changing such an ordinance. “They should be able to repeal it at any time,” he said.

The letter sent Monday was signed by representatives from the North San Antonio Chamber, the Real Estate Council of San Antonio, the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors South Texas Chapter, San Antonio Automobile Dealers, the Alamo Asian Chamber of Commerce, and the San Antonio Manufacturers Association.

The San Antonio Hispanic and San Antonio chambers of commerce did not sign the letter. But latter’s president, Richard Perez, told the Rivard Report he reviewed it last week.

“We just didn’t have time to run it through our process here,” he said. “But we are completely and utterly in lockstep with them in not wanting paid sick leave, and it’s one of the priorities on our state legislative agenda.”

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. Businesses with more than five employees must comply by Aug. 1, and those with less have until August 2021.

San Antonio’s paid sick leave law is similar to one passed in Austin which was set to go into effect Oct. 1 before being blocked in August by a lawsuit filed by business groups there.

State lawmakers, however, have already pledged to pursue legislation banning such City-mandated sick leave ordinances when the Legislature convenes Jan. 8.

“We’re not against paid sick leave … ,” Aldrete said. “What we’re saying is paid sick leave or benefits of that nature are something that a business needs to provide based on their profitability, based on what they would like to offer their employees. It should not be mandated by any city in the state of Texas. It should be mandated, like minimum wages, at the federal level, or state level.”

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Shari Biediger

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