Local Businesses Stand Up for Sick Leave

Committee hears bills that would prevent Austin from regulating certain employment practices

Sen. Brandon Creighton in 2015 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

On Wednesday, May 1, the House State Affairs Committee heard four bills authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, that would prevent cities – notably Austin – from regulating certain employment practices, including "fair chance" hiring ordinances that level the playing field for those with a criminal history, required rest breaks for construction workers, and guaranteed paid sick leave, where Austin's first-in-the-state ordinance from last year is now blocked in court by conservative legal activists.

Creighton and his allies claim these bills ensure there isn't a "patchwork" of regulations across the state, an argument that Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who championed Austin's pro-worker efforts, called "disingenuous" in his testimony. "If you want to solve this patchwork, then pass a state sick days law or pass a statewide rest breaks law. Don't take these protections away from everyday people. Do the right thing."

Nearly 400 people, including businesses and labor unions, signed up to testify during a committee hearing broken up by several hours of House floor debate. Amanda May, founder of local eco-cleaning business the Purple Fig, testified against all bills but spoke specifically on the sick leave measure. "We worked to pass an ordinance that was the democratic process at work. Seeing this being possibly taken away is why I'm here," said May, who helped advocate for Austin's ordinance. "Any competent business would be able to figure out how to implement this rule."

Joseph Strickland, co-founder of Home Slice Pizza, also testified against all the bills and focused on paid sick leave. "I care deeply about the people that work for me – happy employees mean happy customers, and that makes the whole thing work," he said. "I'm more worried about the other restaurants and businesses. This morning, corporations and hotels that depend directly on the backs of hourly workers to make their businesses work lobbied against legislation that helps the lives of those workers significantly while they themselves have access, I'm sure, to paid sick leave if they need it. I find that interesting, to say the least."

Several citizens and legal experts voiced concern that the bills would place local nondiscrimination ordinances in jeopardy. Creighton's initial legislation included language protecting NDOs that was later removed, causing concern among the LGBTQ community. In the end, State Affairs only approved one of the four bills, Senate Bill 2486, which bars cities from enforcing rules on how businesses schedule their employee shifts or compensate overtime. That bill moved forward with language that explicitly protects local nondiscrimination ordinances; it remains to be seen if NDO language finds its way into the other bills if and when they get to the House floor...

The Clock Is Ticking: Officially, Monday, May 6, was the deadline for getting bills out of House committees, and Tuesday, May 7, for their first approval on the floor (technically "second reading"). Measures that didn't make the cut might later survive as amendments to other bills coming over from the Senate or in conference...

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86th Texas Legislature, Brandon Creighton, paid sick leave, Greg Casar, Amanda May, The Purple Fig, Joseph Strickland, Home Slice Pizza, Senate Bill 2486

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