Austin City Council to consider paid sick leave policy for private employers in February

Austin City Council will address a citywide paid sick leave policy in February.

Austin City Council will address a citywide paid sick leave policy in February.

As the city continues to grapple with affordability challenges, Austin City Council is slated to tackle a contentious labor issue early next year: paid sick leave.

On Dec. 14, Council Member Greg Casar of District 4 said he would introduce an ordinance at the City Council’s Feb. 1 meeting that incorporates public feedback gathered by city staff.

The drafted policy will address concerns raised by Casar’s fellow council members, he said, including whether a paid time off policy would be more sensible for employers and employees alike.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair of District 8 worries that mandating private employers in Austin to provide paid sick leave will affect some businesses more than others. The proposed policy “disproportionately impacts small businesses,” she said, and “restricts their ability to provide jobs in the first place.”

Public feedback

After approving a resolution to solicit public input on a potential ordinance mandating paid sick leave for all private employees in the city limits Sept. 28, the council received a report detailing the findings Dec. 5.

City staff gathered feedback—from employers, employees, advocate groups and human resources and temporary agencies—at a series of stakeholder meetings, on the online forum it created for this purpose and via text message.

“This is one of the most robust public discussions I’ve seen,” said Larry Schooler, who facilitated the public input process on behalf of the city.

Business interests

Representatives from the business community, including small-business owners and chamber representatives, are generally against the policy, according to Doug Matthews, the city’s chief communications director.

Their reasons include a lack of flexibility to accommodate different sizes and types of business, a possible disincentive for employers to hire and operate in Austin, the lowering of wages to account for the cost of implementing the policy and employee abuse of paid time off.

On Nov. 15, however, a group of 20 small and local businesses sent a letter to the council in support of the policy.

Dan Gillotte, chief executive grocer of the Wheatsville Food Co-op, was one of the signatories.

“If we all have to offer [paid sick leave], it would even the playing field,” he said.

Wheatsville has offered paid sick leave for more than 20 years. Companies that do not offer it are “at a financial advantage at the moment that isn’t exactly fair,” Gillotte said.

He is hopeful, however, the city can find “a reasonable path” that provides more workers with paid sick leave without leaving business owners saddled with paperwork or increased costs.

Workers’ rights

Employees and worker advocates believe that a paid sick leave policy is an essential workers’ right.

Like the minimum wage, a paid sick leave policy creates a floor, or an absolute minimum, for what workers are due, according to Bo Delp of the Workers Defense Project.

“These costs are being pushed around to people already,” Delp said.

Workers may risk their jobs or their ability to pay for rent or groceries when staying home to recover from an illness or taking care of a sick child or parents.

Employers, on the other hand, have to pay to hire and train a new employee when they fire someone for missing work because of sickness.

Next steps

Now that public feedback has been received, the council needs a policy on which to vote.
Council Members Alison Alter and Leslie Pool both expressed doubts Dec. 14 that a paid sick leave policy that incorporates public feedback and is feasible for small businesses can be drafted in less than two months.

But Casar believes a sensible policy can be crafted by Feb. 1 because of the success of the public input process. “There was real conversation happening around what an ordinance could look like,” he said.


The 28-story tower is expected to open on West 17th Street in 2023. (Rendering courtesy Rhode Partners)
Luxury mixed-use tower The Linden breaks ground north of Capitol in Central Austin

The 28-story high-rise will feature dozens of luxury residences, including a selection of two-story penthouses.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission considered a finalized draft of an updated map for Austin's 10 City Council districts Sept. 15. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATED: Draft map of Austin's redrawn City Council boundaries ready for community review

Volunteer city redistricting commissioners have unanimously passed an initial outline to update all 10 City Council districts set to go into effect next year.

Photo of a sign in a field
3 weeks before first weekend, ACL Music Festival awaits permit, final health and safety procedures

Austin City Limits Music Festival has not yet received a permit for its multiweekend music festival, but the city of Austin said this is a normal timeline.

The Austin Transit Partnership approved a $312.8 million budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. (Benton Graham/Community Impact)
Project Connect’s $312.8M budget receives approval for FY 2021-22

The budget will largely be spent on advancing the 30% designs for the Orange and Blue MetroRail lines.

The Davis/White Park trail will be improved through the Neighborhood Partnering Program. (Courtesy Austin Public Works Department)
City of Austin selects 4 neighborhood improvement projects to assist

The Austin Public Works department has helped complete more than 70 local neighborhood improvement projects in the last 10 years.

200 Academy Drive could be redeveloped to bring live music and housing to a South River City neighborhood. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
South River City's historic Austin Opera House property targeted for housing development, music venue revival

If approved, the project could bring a 17,500-square-foot concert hall and dozens of homes to a 4.6-acre site off of South Congress Avenue.

The city Music Commission met Sept. 13 to consider final outlines for the Live Music Fund Event Program and Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund 3.0.
Austin moving closer to sending out millions for live music events, musician recovery

Two upcoming city funding opportunities are being designed to support music industry events and provide emergency stabilization for those in the music sector.

Photo of county commissioners and community nonprofit leaders at a press conference
Travis County commits $110 million in federal funding to combat homelessness

The allocation will fund 2,000 supportive housing units.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization said the 10 projects will complement existing priority projects in Central Texas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Central Texas transportation organization advances $7 million in funding for 10 priority projects

The group also provided updates on efforts to restructure the loan it extended for the MoPac express lanes.

Photo of a pregnant woman in the hospital
Austin doctors say pregnant individuals should vaccinate, seek monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19

Pregnant women are considered to be at higher risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19.