Activists hail passage of new paid sick leave ordinance in Dallas; policy takes effect Aug. 1

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Dallas’ new ordinance requiring all employers in the city to provide paid sick leave will take effect August, and a study estimates the new policy will affect over 300,000 people in the labor force.

In front of Dallas City Hall, labor advocacy groups Thursday morning celebrated the ordinance as a step forward for what they called "a basic human right."

GOP state legislators this year tried unsuccessfully to prohibit cities from implementing paid sick leave. Dallas became the third city in Texas to craft a policy providing the benefit, joining Austin and San Antonio.

The Dallas City Council passed the ordinance by a 10-4 vote in April. The policy is set to take effect Aug. 1 for businesses with 15 or more employees, and Aug. 1, 2021, for smaller businesses.

Diana Ramirez, civic engagement director for the Workers Defense Project, called it a "historic victory" for Dallas’ community activists.

"No one, and I mean no one, should have to choose between taking a pay cut or losing a job and staying home to take care of themselves or a sick child," said

"Paid sick time is a basic right that every person deserves," Ramirez said. "No one, and I mean no one, should have to choose between taking a pay cut or losing a job and staying home to take care of themselves or a sick child."

But the policy’s future in cities across Texas remains in limbo, especially as Austin’s own ordinance undergoes a legal battle. A state appeals court, without ruling on its merits, temporarily blocked the ordinance last year after a lawsuit from Republican- and business-backed opponents.

Not worrying about Legislature

Juliet Barbara, a spokesperson at the Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based nonprofit that advocates for low-income employees, said the fear that the Legislature may undo those local laws isn’t enough to deter activists from fighting for it.

"Why would we let that deter us from demanding what we know is right?" Barbara said.

Also, she said, the policy is "too popular to be stopped."

In a poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, 71 percent of Texas voters believed employers should be required to offer paid sick leave. A majority — 56 percent — of Republican voters also supported it. The survey, conducted Feb. 14-24, included 1,200 registered voters and had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

Community organizer Tempest McHenry gave remarks during a news conference outside Dallas City Hall to draw attention to the city’s new ordinance requiring all employers withing Dallas to provide paid sick time to their workers.

But a petition to let Dallas voters decide whether to mandate paid sick leave from private employers failed to garner the required number of valid signatures for the November ballot last year.

It’s unclear what to expect next from Dallas officials. The city manager’s office has designated the Office of Equity and Human Rights to coordinate enforcement of the paid sick leave ordinance, Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata said. Beverly Davis, director of the office, is preparing an implementation plan.

Council members Jennifer Staubach Gates, Lee Kleinman, Adam McGough and then-Mayor Mike Rawlings opposed the measure when it came up for a vote. Kleinman had earlier said he believed the ordinance could remain unenforced and would hurt entrepreneurs.

Council member Philip Kingston, a big proponent of the ordinance, and four of his colleagues initially put the controversial ordinance on the amendment with a five-signature memo; that allowed the group of council members to bypass the mayor and city manager, which drew criticism from Rawlings.

Sean Goldhammer, an attorney for the Workers Defense Project, said the organization will work with the city to ensure that the ordinance takes effect on time, and that complaints can be made immediately in August.

About 300,000 workers don’t have paid sick leave in Dallas, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which relied on 2016 U.S. census data — information reflected on a sign held by a girl at Thursday’s rally at Dallas City Hall.

Following the lead of other cities, Dallas’ ordinance requires that employers within city limits provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, and caps sick leave at 64 hours a year. It adds a new chapter to the city code to clarify the complaint and enforcement process for businesses that don’t comply.

Employees can use the time for either themselves or to take care of a family member.

About 300,000 workers don’t have paid sick leave in Dallas, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which relied on 2016 U.S. census data. The study concluded that number disproportionately affects people of color and low-income workers — two populations likely to work for an employer that offered sick leave.

Access varies by occupation

Access to paid sick time also largely depended on occupation. While 86 percent of those who work in the science fields in Dallas have the benefit, the rate drops down to 36 percent for people working in the service industry. The study said the public faces a health risk anytime food service workers prepare food while sick.

Kartik Rathore — 37-year-old owner of a northeast Dallas cocktail bar called The People’s Last Stand — estimated the cost to his small business will be about $5,000 to $6,000 a year for his 15 full-time employees. He said he considered it "negligible."

"We’re talking about supporting our employees and our friends who need help," Rathore said. "It’s my responsibility to support the people that support us."

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