Casar’s drafted paid sick leave policy is a 'compromise ordinance,' he says

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar has led the push for a paid sick leave policy in Austin.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar has led the push for a paid sick leave policy in Austin.

Editor's note: Community Impact Newspaper has been following the paid sick leave issue since the city began gathering input for a potential citywide ordinance. Throughout Community Impact Newspaper's reporting, viewpoints from all sides of the issue have been expressed. Please click this link to find all previous coverage on this issue.

After nearly a year of development, including what he called a “very thorough” stakeholder process, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar has drafted what he calls a “compromise ordinance” that would require private employers in Austin to provide at least eight days of paid sick leave to full-time employees annually. City Council will vote on the ordinance, which is co-sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and council members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen, at its Feb. 15 meeting.

The drafted ordinance was made available to the public Jan. 19. Casar addressed it in more detail at a press conference Jan. 24, where he convened a panel that included Ann Beeson, executive director of the progressive statewide think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities; Pritesh Gandhi, a physician at the People’s Community Clinic; and Meaghan Perkins, direction of operations for Austin-based Beetnik Foods.

The stakeholder process gathered input from varied, and sometimes diametrically opposed, interest groups: employers, employees, advocates and the business community.

“The ordinance brought forward really is a compromise ordinance because we’re trying to bring on as many folks as we can,” Casar said.

Perhaps the most significant comprise is that the drafted ordinance requires eight paid sick days per year for a full-time employee, less than the 12 that most supporters of the policy lobbied for.

However, studies show that employees with paid sick leave take, on average, significantly less than eight days annually. Those who take more typically do so to take care of a sick child or relative.

If the ordinance is approved employers will not be required to provide rollover of or payout for unused sick days. Tipped workers will only earn their wage while on earned sick leave. An education campaign will aim to inform Austin workers of their rights.

Compliance will rely on employees filing complaints to the city’s equal employment opportunity office. If an employer does not heed the ordinance, he or she will be alerted by the city and given the chance to voluntarily comply without consequence. If he or she does not, a civil penalty with a maximum fine of $500 will be levied.

Employers who already offer paid time off policies that meet the minimum standards established by the ordinance will be considered compliant.

Despite these compromises, the panel agreed that the ordinance will still have significant positive effects on Austin’s public health.

As someone who works with the safety net population, Gandhi routinely treats patients who have to choose among paying rent, feeding their families, taking care of chronic medical issues and tending to their sick children.

“That is a calculus that [our patients] make every single day, and that is an affront to their dignity,” Gandhi said.

According to a fact sheet distributed by local coalition Work Strong Austin, 65 percent of service workers don’t have access to paid sick leave. Service jobs include food preparation, hospital work, child care, construction and home health support.

If Austin mandates paid sick leave, Gandhi said, it would “disproportionately benefit … folks who are taking care of our kids, taking care of our elderly, taking care of our immunocompromised.”

When Beetnik Foods began offering paid sick leave, there was some cost involved, Perkins said, but it proved worthwhile. As workers became more comfortable with the policy, no-call no-shows decreased, which minimized disruption at the company.

“This is not a question about cost at all,” Perkins said. “It’s a question of values.”


MOST RECENT

Joseph Chacon was named as chief of police. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City manager selects interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon as head of APD

Austin's city manager selected Joseph Chacon as the next police chief, pending City Council approval.

 Redistricting is one of the items on the Texas Legislature's third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Senate releases proposed redistricting maps as special session begins

Redistricting is one of the items on the third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18.

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County approves fiscal year 2021-22 tax rate

The newly approved rate, paired with higher home appraisal rates, will result in an increase in taxes for many homeowners.

Photo of people attending ACL Fest
City of Austin approves ACL health and safety plan, holds off on final permit

Austin Public Health gave ACL the go-ahead to allow proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative COVID-19 test, but asked organizers to require masking in some areas.

Hundreds of complaints were logged against the Austin Police Department last year related to protests against police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police oversight office challenges APD handling of most 2020 protest complaints

Austin's Office of Police Oversight objected to several aspects of the police department's approach to classifying and investigating protest-related grievances.

Q2 Stadium at night
Mixed-use development Verde Square to bring hotel, office space to site next to Q2 Stadium

Verde Square, a mixed-use development, is expected to break ground on construction by the end of 2022.

Photo of ACL Fest
Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin city staff and officials are pursuing additional protections related to mold issues in rental housing. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City pursuing improvements to handling of Austin renters' mold complaints

New recommendations from a report launched in the wake of Winter Storm Uri detail adjustments Austin could make to its mold response.

Students at O. Henry Middle School in Austin head in for their first day of school Aug. 17. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD's COVID-19 rate lower than nearby districts after first month of school

Austin ISD recorded more cases in the first month of this school year than in all of the 2020-2021 school year. Still, Austin ISD saw a lower percentage of cases in students than surrounding school districts.

Wayback Burgers specializes in cooked-to-order burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Courtesy Wayback Burgers)
Wayback Burgers coming to Leander; fire kills 75 dogs in Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Screen shot of Dr. Desmar Walkes speaking
Austin ICUs remain crowded with COVID-19 patients, delaying some critical care

Within the past week, there was a waiting list of patients to be transferred into Austin-area ICUs, Austin Public Health leaders said.

The city of Austin this summer cleared four unregulated homeless encampments and shifted dozens of residents into shelters. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house thousands of Austin's homeless people taking shape, but outlook for local success, project funding still unclear

The strategy's first housing benchmark fell short in June, and updates on how the estimated $515 million needed for housing and services will be spent are overdue.