As 'Paid Sick Leave' court battle wages on, businesses propose 'Better Process'

Last month, the Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District granted a stay against the "paid sick leave" ordinance passed by Austin City Council back in February, blocking it from going into effect on October 1st. "Right now the ordinance is just stopped until the appeal is decided.  We want to make that permanent until the Texas courts have fully determined this issue," said Robert Henneke, General Counsel at Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Read Controversial Paid Sick Leave

Henneke is representing the business community challenging paid sick leave in court.  

On Thursday the City and TPPF took the next step in the legal process filing briefs that were due.

"Now the City has filed our response to try to get workers their paid sick days on October 1 when it was originally scheduled to go in effect," said Council Member Greg Casar who championed paid sick leave.

Casar is confident the City will prevail in the end. "The state has not banned us from being able to improve workers' lives in other ways rather than raising the minimum wage.  What Ken Paxton is arguing is that by giving workers paid sick days we're raising the minimum wage and that's just a ridiculous lie," Casar said.  

Last week city staff adopted a set of rules for the investigation of complaints related to earned sick time. The new rules actually strengthen the penalties originally proposed for businesses who violate the ordinance.  

For example businesses with 15 or fewer employees will pay a $200 fine as opposed to $100 for the first violation. "It's a clear signal from the City that it still is very much opposed to the business community," Henneke said.

Casar says his hope is businesses will comply. 

But he says if paid sick leave clears the legal hurdles...

"There is a period in which businesses for and against paid sick days can submit their concerns to the City Manager and we can make sure that the enforcement is as fair as possible," Casar said.  

Rebecca Melançon, Executive Director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, supports the concept of paid sick leave but says this ordinance hurts small businesses.

And she says the conversation at City Hall was divisive and destructive -- and it didn't have to be.  So she formed a "Better Process Committee."  To explore more collaborative ways to handle employee-employer issues at City Hall.

On Thursday she sent the 3-step plan to council members.  It includes ideas like really trying to get to the bottom of why some workers in Austin can't get paid sick time.

"Let's do a local study and really understand...who is it?  How many is it?  What part of town?  Is it a certain industry?" Melançon said.  

Melançon wishes the conversation had been about helping the smaller businesses help their employees instead of demonizing them.

"At the end of the day if the legislature stops this we haven't helped one person.  Let's take a different approach and try and find ways that we really can help people," Melançon said.