Lawsuit challenging Austin's 'Paid Sick Leave' ordinance heard in Travis Co. court

At a late night Austin City Council meeting in February after hundreds of speakers, council members approved an ordinance mandating private businesses give workers earned, paid sick time.

"Austin is now the first city in the south to ensure that every person who works has the opportunity to earn paid sick days and use those days to care for themselves," said Jose Garza with Workers Defense back in February.

Businesses, especially small businesses, argued it would hurt them financially.  

"It was rushed through City Council, the proposal that we voted on was just unveiled moments before we took up the item so the community, even those who were in support of the idea, had no time to understand how it might impact them or their business," said Council Member Ellen Troxclair on Monday.

Troxclair was one of the two council members who voted "no."

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is representing a coalition of businesses suing the City of Austin challenging the legality and constitutionality of paid sick leave.

Robert Henneke is lead council.

"The Texas Minimum Wage Act and the Texas Payday Act already regulate for the entire State of Texas the payment of wages for employees.  And under doctrines of preemption, cities cannot adopt ordinances that conflict with state law which is what they've done here," Henneke said.

The city giving itself subpoena power is also part of the suit among other claims.

"Because of my role on the City Council while we were going through this debate, they asked me to come speak about what information, what data was the council actually provided...and the answer is 'very little,'" Troxclair said.

Council Member Troxclair took the witness stand Monday afternoon.  She said it was an unusual move but important. 

She told the court much of the data and information given to council in support of paid sick leave was anecdotal.

Henneke says the goal is to convince the judge to enter an injunction on the ordinance which goes into effect in October by the way.

"Really, what the reasonable thing for this court to do is pause, stop the implantation of the ordinance and then let the case be litigated and let the lawfulness of this issue be determined before businesses have to incur the costs of complying," Henneke said.

The Workers Defense Project sent Fox 7 a statement:

"Working families in Austin will finally have the right to earn paid sick time on October 1, unless special interests with ties to the Koch Brothers take it away first. These extreme groups have filed a frivolous lawsuit that wastes hard earned taxpayer dollars, and could force 223,000 Austin families to choose between taking a pay cut or going to work sick after October 1. We believe the facts will prevail, and the courts will rule in favor of Austin’s hardworking residents."

The hearing continues Tuesday morning at 9am.