District 8 City Council Member Ellen Troxclair urges against Austin proposed paid sick leave policy

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District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair opposes a paid sick leave policy in Austin and would like to postpone the vote scheduled for Thursday evening, she said at a news conference Thursday morning.

“When we have all of these other pressing issues, I fail to see how this issue is the thing that needs to be passed today,” she said, citing traffic congestion and rising property taxes as two examples.

After nearly a year-long public input process, the paid sick leave issue has become a contentious issue in the days leading up to the vote.

The cost of paid sick leave

The economic impact of implementing such a policy, Troxclair said, remains unclear as competing studies show varying cost estimates.

Additionally, the enforcement of a paid sick leave ordinance would cost the city money and require increased property taxes, according to Troxclair.

There are two paid sick leave proposals up for discussion at tonight’s Austin City Council meeting, one from District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and another from District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.

Both versions rely on employees to report non-compliant employers. The City of Austin Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office would then be responsible for ascertaining if the ordinance has been violated.

On Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler and Austin City Council members received a letter from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about his city’s experience implementing a paid sick leave policy.

More than 3.4 million workers in New York City have become eligible for paid sick days since the policy took effect in 2013, and the city’s economy has “continued to grow, adding more than 350,000 new private sector jobs since the beginning of 2014,” de Blasio wrote.

A fair process

Council Member Ora Houston, who represents District 1, joined Troxclair at the press conference.

At a council work session Wednesday, Houston voiced her concerns about the stakeholder process that preceded the drafting of two competing ordinances, one from District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and the other from District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.

“It’s a process that was not inclusive of all voices,” Houston said of a series of public input meetings, citing “harassment” of business owners who opposed the ordinance, including Hoover Alexander of Hoover’s Cooking in East Austin.

Local business concerns

Frank Fuentes, chair of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association of Austin, called a paid sick leave mandate “incredibly impactful” and asked City Council “to step back.”

The construction industry, Fuentes said, relies on contractors and permits, which take months to obtain. This ordinance will complicate their operations and put competitors not based in Austin at a disadvantage, he claimed.

Casar has said that his ordinance, if passed, would apply to any business with Austin employees, regardless of where they are headquartered.

Rebecca Melancon, the executive director of the Austin Independent Business Association, said a survey of its membership revealed 90 percent of respondents opposed a paid sick leave policy in any form.

“We are the workers … that make this city run,” Melancon said of Austin’s local business owners.

She urged against a vote: “What is the emergency here? Austin has been here for 200 years without a policy like this.”

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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