In less than two months, Dallas workers' rights advocacy groups pushing for a citywide paid sick leave ordinance collected more than 110,000 signatures from Dallas residents in support of a referendum on the issue. If about half of those signatures — 60,000 or so — are verified by the Dallas city secretary, the ordinance will appear on Dallas' general election ballot this November.
"Nobody got here by themselves. The lesson is when we come together, we can do amazing thing," said Jose P. Garza, executive director of the Texas Workers Defense Project, at a news conference Monday afternoon. "These people up here and so many more across the city of Dallas worked their tails off to collect more than 110,000 signatures. The people of Dallas have spoken. They want their paid sick time, and we're going to work with our friends in the city to make sure that they get it."
Dallas' proposed sick leave policy would provide any person working in the city 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.
The ordinance is identical to one passed in Austin earlier this year and one being pushed in San Antonio, part of an effort to slow down potential attempts by the Legislature to nullify the city ordinances during the 2019 legislative session.
"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 stitched together," Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston told the Observer earlier this year. "None of that's true, but we don't even want to give them the argument."
Kingston's council colleague Omar Narvaez said Monday that guaranteeing paid sick days for those who need them is key to addressing income inequality in Dallas.
"Mothers and fathers shouldn't have to choose between sick children and paying rent," Narvaez said. "We cannot continue to bolster a city that has haves and have-nots."
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Lee Daugherty, the owner of Alexandre's bar in Oak Lawn, said that the service industry, rather than losing out for paying sick time, will benefit from greater stability in the workforce.
"[The service industry] is a rough industry. It's an industry with no real wage guarantee — a paltry $2.13 an hour. Benefits, paid sick time, health care, those things are not discussed in this industry," Daugherty said. "Something in this industry is broken, and we all know it's not the people who work in this industry. These are some of the hardest-working people in Dallas and across this nation. Something fundamental is wrong."
If Dallas passes paid sick leave, it will likely face a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton's office has already intervened in a suit against the Austin law, claiming that it violates Texas' minimum-wage statute.
“The Austin City Council’s disdain and blatant disregard for the rule of law is an attempt to unlawfully and inappropriately usurp the authority of the state lawmakers chosen by Texas voters and must be stopped,” Paxton said in late April.