Austin considers requiring private companies to provide paid sick leave

Hospital room (KXAN File Photo)
Hospital room (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin City Council is looking for feedback on the possibility of a city-wide paid sick leave policy for employees in the private sector. Almost 4 out of 10 workers in Austin do not work at a company where paid sick leave is required.

Some small businesses in Austin say a city-wide requirement is just not realistic.

For five years, Cafe Aragona has served coffee to people along Congress Avenue. Jenai Hales owns the cafe and employs eight people. Paying them when they don’t show up to work, she says, would be too costly.

“People don’t realize that in the food service business, the margins aren’t as high as people think,” said Hales.

The company is expanding in the months ahead but her employees still have a high turnover, some, staying for four to six months. “It’s a means to an end, it’s a transient position. They often haven’t figured things out yet, so it’s not a career path,” said Hales.

Approximately 6 out 10 service industry workers don’t have sick pay.

“Working families should not decide between paying their rent or being able to take care of themselves or their families,” said Ana Gonzalez, an advocate at the Workers Defense Project.

She’s for expanding sick leave to all workers in Austin—some 220,000 additional people.

Several groups see a bigger impact of having no sick days. According to a study from Work Strong Austin, a coalition including the Workers Defense Project, almost 30 percent of the white population don’t have sick time. That’s compared to 40 percent of blacks and more than half of Hispanics.

The impacted industries are construction, maintenance, followed by service and then sales and office jobs.

“Do you want your coworkers to come to work and get you sick? Do you want that as an employer?” were the questions posed by Gonzalez.

Right now, there still are many questions about how an ordinance like that would be implemented.

The city states paid sick time can “have a positive effect on individuals and the public health of Austinites.” According to the resolution, 33 cities and eight states across the country have paid sick policies in place.

The council directed staff to gather feedback from the community on the policy in late September. For the month of November, people can give their feedback online here.

There will be three public meetings to gather input on the issue:

  • Nov. 2: 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the Asian American Resource Center, 8401 Cameron Road.
  • Nov. 16: 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the Town Lake Center Assembly Room 130, 721 Barton Springs Road. Parking available in the Palmer Events Center garage.
  • Nov. 30: 4 to 6:30 p.m. at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St.

After the November input sessions, city staff will form a recommendation to the council who could then vote on a proposed city ordinance.

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