Voters in the city of Dallas will be able to give everyone who works in the city paid sick leave when they head to the ballot box in November if a coalition of workers' rights groups gets its way. Volunteers with the Workers Defense Project and other groups will head to City Hall on Friday to formally initiate a petition to get paid sick leave on the ballot, echoing similar efforts in San Antonio and Austin earlier this year.
While Sam Robles, a spokeswoman for the Workers Defense Project, declined to provide any details about the initiative on the record Thursday, urging the Observer to wait for a Friday's press conference, Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, who's worked behind the scenes to get the plan off the ground, filled us in on the details Thursday afternoon.
"It's exciting on a number of levels. One, it's a great idea. People who don't have access to sick leave can really wind up suffering, and they also create a public health problem because they come to work when they're sick." Kingston says. "It's exciting in terms of both being a real strong anti-poverty initiative, and it's a good public health initiative. The other ancillary benefit we're going to get is having this excellent policy issue to talk about in the lead-up to the November election."
If organizers are successful in getting sick leave on the ballot, the ordinance submitted for approval will be identical to the one proposed in San Antonio, which is identical to the sick leave rule passed by the Austin City Council earlier this year.
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"The very specific issue, which is no surprise to anybody, is that the first argument that the Republican Legislature uses every session is that they're trying to correct a 'patchwork quilt' of regulations that these irresponsible cities have switched together," Kingston says. "None of that's true, but we don't even want to give them the argument."
Dallas' sick leave policy would provide any person working in Dallas at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of six or eight days a year, depending on the size of the employer. Workers using their leave would be compensated at their normal hourly rates. Tipped employees making less than minimum wage would be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 while on leave.
In order to get the ordinance on the ballot, organizers need to get signatures from 10 percent of Dallas' more than 600,000 registered voters. If the groups are successful, Kingston says he hopes it will drive Democratic voters to the polls in November.
"Each different issue that you can bring up brings more people to the polls because people care about different things," Kingston says. "Once they come out for one thing, we may have made new voters at that point. That's clearly what needs to happen in Texas."