Two weeks after requiring most private employers to provide paid sick leave to their staff, the Austin City Council voted Thursday to do the same for its temporary workers.
Under the resolution passed Thursday, temporary city government employees who work 80 hours or more in a given year — roughly 2,900 met that threshold in 2017 — will begin accruing sick time.
The change goes into effect Oct. 1, the same day that the paid sick leave mandate for private employers begins. The 9-2 vote Thursday also mirrored the Feb. 16 passage of the paid sick leave mandate, with Council Members Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair opposed.
As with last month’s paid sick leave ordinance, the quick pace of this resolution’s passage irked those against it. But its sponsor, Council Member Greg Casar, told the council that this vote should have happened a long time ago.
“I don’t think we are acting too quickly,” Casar said. “I think we are acting too late. I think all of our staff should have had sick time long before anyone on this dais was elected.”
The city of Austin already provides paid sick days to its full-time employees.
Starting this fall, city temporary workers and most private sector workers will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, for up to 64 hours, or eight eight-hour work days, of paid leave. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees have a lower cap of up to 48 hours, or six eight-hour work days, of paid leave.
The council’s vote last month put in place the most progressive local labor policy in Texas and the American South. Its passage drew attention from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and has led many to speculate whether it could lead to similar policies being enacted locally in other red states.
Meanwhile, some Republican state lawmakers have already vowed to file bills next legislative session to overturn the ordinance, much as the Legislature passed a law last year trumping Austin’s ride-hailing ordinance.
The City Council budgeted $243,200 to begin providing paid sick leave to temporary employees for this fiscal year, but never spent that money. Thursday’s resolution will put that money toward public outreach and education efforts for businesses on the new paid sick leave ordinance.
City staff have estimated that implementing the paid sick leave mandate will cost roughly $350,000 to $400,000, including hiring staff to coordinate outreach and respond to questions.
Houston and Troxclair both said they could not support the resolution without more information. Among other things, there was no solid estimate on how much the paid sick leave for temporary employees would cost the city.
“There are too many things that are not finished yet,” Houston said. “There are too many unknowns, and I can’t endorse something that I have no idea about what the outcomes are going to be.”
Council Member Ann Kitchen said she recognized the decision would have a fiscal impact, but said that, as a policy, it boiled down to taking care of the city’s workers.
“If our workers cannot have a job where they can be home and paid if they are sick, then we are sacrificing affordability for them,” Kitchen said. “That is just not the right thing to do.”
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