A rule requiring paid sick leave for workers takes effect Thursday in Dallas. Activists are watching.
Three Texas cities have passed paid sick-leave ordinances, but implementation of the rules in San Antonio and Austin has stalled amid court challenges.
On New Year’s Day, Candice Oglesby had to miss work because she had a migraine that gave her convulsions.
She woke up the next morning still feeling groggy and shaky, so she took off a second day from her full-time job as a florist in a Dallas Kroger. Oglesby, who joked that she “lives on ibuprofen and Tylenol,” has been diagnosed with two brain aneurysms since 2013 and said her convulsions often cause her to lose consciousness. That day, over-the-counter medicine couldn’t curb her pain.
Her two days off work lost her $100 to $150 — putting her behind on February’s rent. She ended up having to pick up odd jobs to make ends meet for herself and her two young kids.
“Missing one day of work will set me a month behind in bills,” said Oglesby, who only gets one paid personal day at her job per year.
“If I don’t feel good or have a headache, I still have to go to work every day or else the bills don’t get paid,” she said. “We don’t eat.”
Many Dallas City Council members have cited people like Oglesby as the reason for the paid sick-leave ordinance that the council adopted in a 10-4 vote earlier this year.
Texas businesses are not required to offer their employees paid sick time, which led Austin to approve an ordinance mandating it last year. Since then, San Antonio and Dallas have followed in the capital city’s footsteps. Each has faced pushback — and legal challenges — for adopting the rules, which have led to most getting delayed.
But on Thursday, Dallas will be the first of three major metropolitan areas to see its proposal come to fruition. Supporters and advocates of the proposal across the state are watching closely to measure its impact.
Dallas’ ordinance — which is similar to the ones fighting for survival in Austin and San Antonio — requires one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Workers would be able to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave each year.
For employers with fewer than 15 workers, the amount would be capped at 48 hours, or six paid sick days.
Roxana Rubio, the city’s public affairs officer, said the ordinance goes into effect — and the city expects businesses to comply — starting Thursday only for employers with six or more workers. It will not be enforced until April 1, she said. Businesses with five employees or fewer will have to begin abiding by the ordinance in August 2021.
The implementation of its ordinance comes days after an Austin-based conservative think tank sued on behalf of two businesses to block it from taking effect. The federal lawsuit by the Texas Public Policy Foundation alleges that the sick leave proposal is an overreach of the city’s regulatory power and that it violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which business groups claim “explicitly prevents localities from requiring private employers to pay more” than minimum wage.
“Our members want to take care of their employees, and they will do that. But just because the city mandates they have to offer some sort of benefit, doesn’t mean they can afford it,” said Annie Spilman, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business who was not part of Tuesday’s lawsuit.
“Economics 101 is if they can’t afford to implement this, they’ll have to cut back hours or cut back positions or close their doors.”
For months, groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the National Federation of Independent Business have attempted to upend the ordinances — both through the courts and the Legislature. Last week, the implementation of San Antonio’s ordinance was delayed after city officials and business groups reached a deal to postpone it from August to December.
Meanwhile, Austin officials are fighting to implement their rule after an appeals court deemed it unconstitutional last year. Although lawmakers this legislative session attempted to overturn such ordinances at the statewide level, a priority bill taking such action failed to pass after it became ensnared in a fight over rights for LGBTQ Texans.
Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez said that he hopes Dallas’ ordinance will convince naysayers that such policies can be successful and will set a precedent for other cities.
“What the vast majority of businesses already know is that a healthy workforce is a higher-producing workforce,” said Narvaez, who voted in favor of his city’s proposal. “Keeping illness out of the workplace is a safeguard for the public’s health.”
Rubio said the city briefed small-business owners on how to prepare for the citywide law in various public meetings and has worked to educate employers and employees ahead of Thursday.
Still, Spilman said many of her organization’s Dallas-based members have called her frantically saying they’re concerned that they won’t be able to comply with the ordinance. She encouraged Dallas city officials to delay their ordinance as San Antonio has.
“Let’s take a step back, let’s act responsibly and let’s vet this out,” she said.
But with officials giving no indication so far that they plan to reconsider or halt the policy’s implementation, community organizers are remaining optimistic.
“Today is a huge victory for working families in Dallas and proof of their strength and power,” said Jose Garza, co-executive director of Workers Defense Action Fund. “Corporate interests have run out of time, and today Dallas workers have the right to earn paid sick time so they can afford to stay home when they get sick or need to care for a sick child.
“But we're not letting off the gas anytime soon. Our communities will continue to fight wherever paid sick time is threatened and at every step to make sure that working people have this hard-fought right.”
Oglesby, meanwhile, said she’s using the ordinance to help convince some of her co-workers — some of whom are against the ordinance — about what she believes are the benefits of the new rule.
“Don’t think about it as being good for you. Think about this as being good for your children, because you’re not bringing home those germs,” she said.
“I don’t want to have to choose between a paycheck or my kids.”
Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter 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.
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