Paid sick days measure for Austin workers passes early Friday morning after hours of tinkering, testimony

Work Strong Austin holds on Feb. 15, ahead of City Council's vote to approve a paid sick leave policy in Austin.

Work Strong Austin holds on Feb. 15, ahead of City Council's vote to approve a paid sick leave policy in Austin.

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Austin workers will be paid for sick leave, Austin City Council decided early Friday morning in a measure that affects about 220,000 Austin-based employees and their employers.

Austin City Council voted 9-2 at nearly 1 a.m. to approve the paid sick leave policy on all three readings—with council members Ellen Troxclair, of District 8, and Ora Houston, of District 1, voting against the measure.

More than 300 people signed up to speak on the issue, most in support of the ordinance. The vote came more than five hours after public testimony began.

On Thursday morning, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who has led the charge for a paid sick leave policy in Austin, released a modified ordinance that incorporates some of the recommendations in District 6 Jimmy Flannigan's alternate paid sick leave proposal, which Flannigan released on Monday.

"This ordinance achieves the goal set up on Labor Day [2017]," which was between five and 10 days of paid sick leave annually for full-time employees at private businesses, Casar said.

The modified ordinance establishes tiers according to the size of the business for the amount of paid sick time an employee can accrue. Those with 15 or fewer employees are required to provide six days of paid sick leave to full-time employees; those with more are required to provide eight days.

The ordinance also requires an annual report, provided to City Council by the Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office, on the ordinance and its impact, taken word-for-word from Flannigan's proposal.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter motioned to make an amendment to "safeguard nonprofits," extending the deadline for when they would need to comply with the ordinance to October 2020. Unlike private employers, Alter said, nonprofits cannot raise prices to cover the costs of implementing a paid sick leave policy.

The amendment did not pass.

Casar said he felt the modified ordinance addressed this concern with the provision that businesses, including nonprofits, with 5 or fewer employees have an additional four months to comply with the ordinance.

Ultimately, Alter voted for the ordinance, despite "a considerable amount of heartburn about the process that got us here." Both she and Pool said they reserve the right to make amendments to the ordinance in the future.

Troxclair cited concern about the "disproportionate effect" a paid sick leave mandate would have on small businesses.

She then made a motion to exempt small businesses from the ordinance. Council did not approve it.

The paid sick leave ordinance will take effect June 1, 2019, except for micro- businesses, which have until Oct. 1, 2019 to comply.

Casar, along with a number of supporters of the ordinance, expressed hope that Austin will be the first of many cities in Texas with paid sick leave policies.
By 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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