Dallas Finally Threatened With Lawsuit Over Sick Leave Ordinance

If Dallas implements paid sick leave, this young woman could stay home from work.EXPAND
If Dallas implements paid sick leave, this young woman could stay home from work.
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There was never any way Dallas was going to make it all the way to Aug. 1 without a legal challenge to its paid sick leave ordinance, but now it's official: the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank helping represent business groups suing to stop similar ordinances in Austin and San Antonio, wants in on the action in Dallas, too.

In a letter sent to interim Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso on Tuesday, the foundation's general counsel, Robert Henneke, said he would sue to stop the ordinance if Dallas did not agree by the close of business Tuesday to hold off on implementing the ordinance until Dec. 1.

Caso did not return a request for comment from the Observer on Tuesday.

Opponents of the sick leave ordinances, which require employers to compensate employees with one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work, argue that the ordinances are an unconstitutional end run around Texas state law, which prohibits municipalities from setting a minimum wage higher than that required by the federal government.

“San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and other cities cannot be allowed to pass their own laws simply because they dislike state law or disagree with the judgment of the state’s elected representatives,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said late last week. “The Legislature established the minimum amount of compensation for workers, and the Texas Constitution prohibits local municipalities from ignoring the Legislature’s decision.”

Paxton has intervened on behalf of plaintiffs in both the Austin and San Antonio lawsuits.

Advocates for paid sick leave for Texas workers say the lawsuits are motivated by special interests, rather than what's best for Texans.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and isn't required to reveal where it gets its funding, but a list of donors inadvertently revealed donations from the arch-conservative Koch Brothers.

"We're not surprised that the attorney general doesn't think that people who work in Texas should have the ability to take a day off when they get sick," Jose Garza, the executive director of the Texas Workers Defense Project, told the Observer after the Austin lawsuit was filed. "This is a frivolous lawsuit initiated by special interest groups that are linked to the Koch brothers. ... It's a lawsuit that's seeking to undermine the democratic process and take away a basic right from hundreds of thousands of people who live and work in Austin."

Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez, one of the council's biggest proponents for paid sick time, said that the law is on Dallas' side.

"I am disappointed that any group would try to deprive working Dallasites of this critical childcare and employment safeguard that also keeps us all healthier by keeping illness out of the workplace. It's not surprising that a reactionary group from outside of Dallas like TPPF would be involved," Narvaez told the Observer. "Skilled lawyers for the paid sick advocates carefully analyzed the legality of this common sense benefit before efforts began in San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, and I am confident the city of Dallas, its paid sick ordinance and working Dallasites will prevail."

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