San Antonio City Hall
The war between public safety unions and City Hall dates to 2013. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Unofficial confirmation that the petition to put a paid sick leave ordinance to a public vote garnered the required number of valid signatures was enough for the initiative’s proponents to take next steps ahead of a presentation of results to City Council on Aug. 2.

On Thursday, volunteers with the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) canvassed stores and community centers across San Antonio with information about the initiative and asked City officials to quickly approve the measure to be put on the municipal ballot in the November election.

The ordinance could be enacted through a vote by City Council or the public; if ratified, nearly all private-sector employees in San Antonio would earn paid sick leave.

“Our main focus is going to be on putting pressure on the mayor and the City Council” so they approve it on time, said Mary Moreno, communications director with TOP. “If [Council] took the 60 days” given to either pass the ordinance or place it on the municipal ballot, “it would put us beyond the deadline for November.”

TOP is one of several local organizations that comprise the coalition Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave, which on May 24 submitted more than 144,000 petition signatures for verification to the City attorney.

The City clerk’s office has kept mum on the results of the signature verification process, with City Attorney Andy Segovia maintaining it “will not provide any comment or report on the verification process until after the review is completed and certified to City Council,” citing regulations set out in the City Charter.

The verification process includes comparing the signature on the petition to the one in a person’s voter file; members of Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave said they completed that same verification process before submitting the signatures to the City, boosting confidence that they achieved the requisite 69,950 signatures.

“We knew when we turned them in that we had enough signatures to qualify,” said Michelle Tremillo, co-founder and executive director of TOP in San Antonio. She told the Rivard Report that the organization is now pushing City Council to act on the measure by Aug. 9, the council meeting following the the City attorney’s presentation of the results.

“So far, the feedback we are getting from [City officials] is one of support,” Tremillo said, adding that if the City does not meet the Aug. 9 deadline, the coalition would push for Aug. 16.

More than 350,000 San Antonio workers currently do not have access to paid sick time. If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the ordinance would require employers in the city to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at six or eight days annually depending on the size of the business. It would also allow parents to take time off to care for sick children.

Tremillo said for many families, going three days without pay is the equivalent to a month’s worth of groceries. “If people have to take an unpaid day off from work, it can lead to very difficult choices later in the month around what bills to pay,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, federal law does not require employers to provide workers with paid or unpaid leave, meaning employers may choose whether they include any kind of leave in their company policy.

The State of Texas also does not require sick leave to be provided to employees.

Connecticut was the first state to mandate that private sector employers provide paid sick leave to their employees, with a law enacted in 2011. California became the second state to enact paid sick requirements, with the passage of the Healthy Workplace, Healthy Families Act of 2014.

On Feb. 15, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance requiring sick leave for private employees. Although legislators moved quickly to kill the ordinance, a Travis County District Court Judge on June 26 ruled against a request to put Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance on hold while it remain challenged in court. It is set to take effect Oct. 1.

“We are hoping that the mayor and City Council will do what’s best for working families in San Antonio, which is to put it on the ballot as soon as possible,” Tremillo said. “Once we are on the ballot we are confident that San Antonio voters will vote to make positive change for their families and their city.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.