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

City Clerk Leticia Vacek told the San Antonio City Council on Thursday that petitions to put a paid sick-leave ordinance on the November municipal ballot had the required number of valid signatures.

With 70,419 signatures validated, City Council has until its Aug. 16 meeting to gather information and community feedback on the paid sick-leave issue before an Aug. 20 deadline for the measure to be included on the ballot. Council members could vote to approve a sick-leave ordinance or decide to place it on the ballot.

The announcement of the signature validation comes after more than two months of relative silence from the clerk’s office after proponents of the sick-leave measure submitted more than 144,000 signatures on May 24.

Vacek said that of the total signatures submitted, 70,419 were found to be valid. The remaining signatures were deemed invalid because they were duplicates, the signers lived outside City limits, or they were incomplete.

San Antonio City Clerk Leticia Vacek
San Antonio City Clerk Leticia Vacek Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“We already knew we had enough signatures to qualify, and we are very hopeful and optimistic that council will do the right thing and honor the many folks who signed the petition and think it’s time for paid sick time in San Antonio,” said Jolene Garcia with the Texas Organizing Project, one of several local organizations that comprise the coalition Working Texans for Paid Sick Time.

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.

Opponents of the measure say that paid sick time is a state and federal issue and should not be decided at the local level. Cristina Aldrete, president and CEO of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that by having the same ordinance across the state gives all cities and municipalities a level playing field to do business.

North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cristina Aldrete
North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cristina Aldrete Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“If there are different ordinances across the state, companies who may be looking to relocate to Texas” may overlook San Antonio as an option, Aldrete said.

Aldrete said that most businesses in San Antonio offer employees some form of paid time off, and that those that do not are likely smaller and operate within tight margins. Those companies may offer different time off options and benefits that a worker may need more than paid sick time off, Aldrete said, noting that the measure would impact small businesses most.

For businesses that already offer paid sick time off, or have a bucket time-off policy that lumps sick leave into regular paid time off, it may be less challenging to comply with a new local ordinance, said Cyndi Mergele, human resources consultant and senior director of the San Antonio office for consulting firm RSM US.

For companies without policies in place or companies that offer less than what an ordinance would mandate, Mergele said that the biggest hurdle is finding a way to pay for it.

“When a company has an obligation to pay future paid time off, they have to account for it in their financials, and it is considered a cost,” she said.

Opponents of the measure believe that mandating paid sick time could come at the expense of other benefits offered or impact a company’s ability to offer full-time employment or increase their employee base.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, council will conduct a public hearing to get community input on the proposed paid sick-leave ordinance.

“City Council wants public input,” Bruce Davidson, Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s spokesman, said Monday. “It’s a complex issue that affects everybody, and there are many groups with vastly different opinions on the topic.”

Liza Barratachea, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association, said the organization does not oppose paid sick leave, but opposes government-mandated restrictions on businesses.

“At the end of the day, if there is more expense to running a business, the money has to come from somewhere,” she said. “I think that the issue of paid sick leave has been forced upon the city, and it is very unfortunate.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

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