Sixteen business groups have organized a new coalition to keep “California-style policies” out of Texas workplaces — an effort that could put the nail in the coffin of paid sick leave ordinances already on shaky ground in two Texas cities.
Launched Monday, ASSET — the Alliance for Securing and Strengthening the Economy in Texas — includes several organizations that have already signed on to a legal challenge of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance, which a state appeals court temporarily blocked in August. But the new group is poised to be an influential force at the Capitol when legislators reconvene in January, especially given the opposition such measures have already drawn from conservative lawmakers. Its top aim, leaders said, is to advocate a state law pre-empting cities from enacting employment and labor measures that could put businesses at a disadvantage.
In February, Austin’s city council passed a paid sick leave ordinance that allows workers to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year at businesses with more than 15 employees. San Antonio followed suit in August, and in Dallas, organizers came just short of getting enough signatures to put paid sick leave on this November’s ballot.
Advocates praise those measures as critical protections for workers, but business groups are wary of the burden they impose on small business owners. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, with support from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, has jumped in to defend those business interests in court.
But as those legal efforts play out, lawmakers have also made it clear they’re gearing up to fight cities’ plans in the halls of the Legislature. Hours after Austin passed its ordinance, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, called out the city council for “declaring war” on small businesses. Dozens more lawmakers, including state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, have also signed on to a letter calling out the ordinance for putting businesses at “a competitive disadvantage.”
The new coalition of business groups plan to push for broad statewide pre-emptions that would go well beyond paid sick leave. The new push is necessary because of what Annie Spilman, ASSET spokeswoman and state director for the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, called “unprecedented” moves by cities to overreach their authority on employment issues.
“We’re just trying to codify the things that cities aren’t able to do based on the state constitution — it’s not been in state law before because this has never happened before,” Spilman said. “The cities have never attempted to do this before and it’s 2018. … We need to be very proactive as we’re going into the legislative session.”
The new coalition also includes the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Retailers Association and the Texas Association of Builders.
In 2016, Austin passed a citywide “fair chance hiring” ordinance mandating that employers may not check job applicants’ criminal histories until after they have extended a conditional offer of employment. More recently, the city has also mandated rest breaks for construction workers.
The city council touts those efforts as progressive, proactive worker protections. But Spilman said such issues are best regulated at the state level.
Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Association of Builders and Texas Retailers Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.