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Austin Becomes 1st City In Texas To Mandate Paid Sick Leave

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Austin becomes 1st city in Texas to mandate paid sick leave

The Austin City Council voted early Friday to make paid sick leave a mandatory requirement for all non-government employers, making Austin the first city in Texas to regulate sick leave.

The highly anticipated vote came after more than 200 people testified at City Hall, with a large majority in favor of the ordinance. It passed 9-2 with council members Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair against.

“For me, so much of this is about widening inequality and our fight against it,” said Council Member Greg Casar, the author and lead proponent of the ordinance.

The vote was greeted with thunderous applause and singing as the council adopted a compromise ordinance Casar offered Thursday that addressed many concerns brought forward by Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and others earlier this week.

The compromise decreased the cap on paid sick days to 48 hours total, or six full eight-hour work days, for small businesses with 15 or fewer employees. All other private employers will be required to provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave.

But the passed ordinance did not include an exemption for so-called micro-businesses with five or fewer employees. Flannigan had authored a substitute ordinance that would do just that. But after Casar posted his amended ordinance on Thursday and lowered the cap for small businesses, Flannigan signaled he would support it.

Micro-businesses still will be required to give paid sick leave to their employees, but not until October 2020. Council Member Alison Alter’s amendment to exempt all nonprofit employers until October 2019 did not pass.

Employees will accrue paid sick leave at the rate of one hour per 30 worked.

Supporters and detractors of the ordinance signed up in the dozens to speak on the ordinance. A large majority were in favor before the item came up.

“I’ve seen firsthand what this can do,” said Ryan Garrett, general manager of Stubb’s Barbecue. “I’ve seen what this can do to morale. … It means the world to the people I work with, and it is 100 percent the right thing to do.”

Business owners from Chez Zee American Bistro, the County Line and others testified against the ordinance. Other businesses listed against the ordinance by the Austin Independent Business Alliance included Amy’s Ice Cream, Toy Joy, BookPeople, Guero’s Taco Bar and Roger Beasley Automotive group.

“In this form it doesn’t (work),” said Sharon Watkins, the owner of Chez Zee. “You should make it a better ordinance for the whole range of businesses in our community.”

The speakers for the ordinance also included some star power in former Fort Worth state Sen. Wendy Davis, who is now an Austin resident. Davis spoke about the “unique impact” unpaid sick leave has on women, referencing reproductive health, and said that Austin is proving to be a progressive leader in the deep red South.

“You have continually led the way for other cities in this state and across the country on what good governance looks like,” Davis said.

The ordinance takes effect on Oct. 1.

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