Austin weighs response to injunction against paid sick leave ordinance

Sept 06, 2018

The city of Austin on Thursday filed an appellate briefing as part of the ongoing fight over the city’s controversial paid sick leave mandate.

It was unclear Friday whether the city would appeal a temporary injunction against the ordinance to the Texas Supreme Court.

On Thursday evening, the city’s legal team finalized a briefing in response to an Aug. 24 ruling by the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals that blocked the ordinance. The justices made no assessment of the merits of the law, which would require nearly all Austin employers to provide paid sick days to employees, according to city officials.

In February, the Austin City Council passed the paid sick leave ordinance — the first of its kind in Texas — to the cheers of progressive activists. Its passage was followed almost immediately by vows from state lawmakers to undo the ordinance during the 2019 legislative session.

In the interim, a coalition of businesses and business advocacy groups represented by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation took the city to court. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also joined the legal efforts to try to overturn the ordinance, originally set to go into effect Oct. 1.

The group opposing the ordinance lost in a local state district court in June before the appeals court granted an injunction on Aug. 17.

Opponents’ main legal argument against the ordinance is that it violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which prohibits cities from setting a local minimum wage at a rate that’s higher than the federal minimum wage.

Under the ordinance, workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of 64 hours, or eight days a year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees would have a paid sick leave cap of 48 hours a year.

Opponents believe the ordinance will stunt businesses’ growth by increasing costs to their owners. Supporters have said the law will prevent the spread of illness in the workplace, reduce turnover and save employers money by minimizing lost productivity.

“Paxton and the big business lobby are willing to do anything to prevent someone from taking a sick day or caring for a sick child,” said Council Member Greg Casar, the lead sponsor of the ordinance who helped drive its passage.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the city of Austin filed an appellate brief with the Third Court of Appeals on Thursday.