Nine months after a petition drive to get an ordinance requiring paid sick leave for everyone who works in Dallas went down in flames, the Dallas City Council will take up a similar ordinance. Wednesday, the council will decide whether city code will require all Dallas employers to credit their employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work. If the ordinance passes, a legal fight is sure to follow.
For advocates and council members who've pushed sick leave in Dallas for years, the issue is simple. Without paid leave, about 300,000 Dallas workers face docked pay or losing their job if they get sick and can't work. If they do show up to work sick, Dallas' public health is in jeopardy.
"I'm tired of getting hassled for having to call in for being sick or having to leave early because my kids are sick,” said Katy Murphy, a Dallas grocery store employee and member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000, in a news release. “Council should stand up for working people in Dallas like me and make paid sick available to everyone."
City Council member Philip Kingston, a longtime supporter of sick leave, said the proposed council action became inevitable when last year's petition drive came up short.
"It would've been better to do it by a referendum, just to demonstrate how popular it is, but we know how popular it is," Kingston says. "We don't want sick people coming to work. It's a public health issue. We want to make sure that people have job security when they have an employer who's a jerk, and we want to put the maximum pressure on these Republicans at the Legislature to demonstrate to the people of Texas that the Republicans down there don't care what they want."
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Despite a 2019 Texas Tribune poll showing that more than 70% of Texas voters support requiring employers to give their employees paid sick time, the Texas Senate has already passed two bills this session that would ban cities and counties from implementing blanket sick-leave policies.
Even if Dallas passes its ordinance before a state ban goes into effect, it's unclear whether it would ever be implemented. Austin passed its own sick leave ordinance in 2018, leading to an immediate challenge by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who believes sick leave ordinances amount to illegal minimum wage increases. Paxton won a preliminary injunction against the Austin law in November.
Despite the sure legal challenge, Kingston says he's ready to fight if the council votes with him.
"If it passes on Wednesday," Kingston said, "I guess we'll get into a fight with Ken Paxton."