More than 200,000 workers in Austin, Texas won a new benefit on February 15 when the city council passed a new ordinance that requires local employers to provide paid sick leave to workers.
The new paid sick leave ordinance was an initiative of Work Strong Austin, a community/labor organization that includes the Workers Defense Fund, UNITE HERE Local 23, Fight for $15, Young Active Labor Leaders, and the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
“I think this was a big victory for public health and workers’ rights in the city, and just as important a victory for progressive politics of Texas and the South,” said City Council Member Greg Casar to the Austin American-Statesman. “This would not have passed without a strong majority on the council and the election of progressive pro-worker (council members).”
Casar sponsored the ordinance and worked closely with Work Strong Austin to get it passed.
The new ordinance requires private employers to allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. An employee of a business or non-profit organization can accrue up to at least eight hours of paid sick leave a year.
Employees of private employers with fewer than 15 employees may accrue only six days of paid sick leave.
Businesses that already provide more generous paid sick leave will continue to do so.
Prior to the city council’s vote, hundreds of supporters of the ordinance rallied in front of City Hall to urge passage of the ordinance.
Casar, who was at one time the policy director for the Workers Defense Project, told the crowd that other cities in the South had tried and failed to pass paid sick leave ordinances, but “we’re not going to fail because of the amazing organizing and support that you all have brought to the table.”
“We have an unprecedented coalition of organizations coming together, and we are going to make sure that we don’t fail but that we pass (this ordinance tonight),” Casar continued.
Casar also urged people at the rally to register in support of the ordinance; nearly 400 did and many testified in favor of it.
Among those who testified in favor of the ordinance were UNITE HERE Local 23 members Darnell Franklin and Iris Leija.
Casar read off a long list of organizations that supported the ordinance. Among those were the Communication Workers of America (CWA) District 6 and CWA Local 6132, whose members work for AT&T in the Austin area.
Claude Cummings, District 6 vice president, and Jason Peavler, president of Local 6132, co-authored a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the ten city council members.
In the letter Cummings and Peavler called on the mayor and city council members to vote for the ordinance without delay and to make sure that it applied to all workers.
The CWA letter also explained why paid sick leave is important and why immediate action was needed.
“The fact is this: paid sick time is a basic human right, “the letter stated. “For every day that goes by without passage of the paid sick time ordinance, over 200,000 men and women in Austin are forced to choose between a pay cut or taking care of themselves or a loved one because they do not have access to paid sick days.”
Before the vote took place, opponents of the ordinance including the Austin Chamber of Commerce, tried to get a vote on the measure postponed.
They argued that not enough was known about the impact that paid sick leave for all would have on businesses. They also said that there wasn’t any Austin specific information about the impact that the new benefit would have.
But days before the final vote was taken, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released the results of a cost benefit analysis of the Austin ordinance.
IWPR said that its researchers specifically studied the impact that giving paid health care to Austin workers would have on Austin businesses and concluded that the ordinance would save businesses $4.5 million a year.
The analysis estimated that providing Austin workers with paid sick leave would cost businesses $34.3 million a year but that it would generate business savings of $38.8 million a year.
After the IWPR cost-benefit was released and before the city council voted for the ordinance, Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said that “this new cost-benefit analysis shows that paid sick days are a win-win-win for employers, for workers, and for our entire community.”