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Council to vote on extending paid sick leave to all city employees

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 by Jack Craver

Two weeks after approving an ordinance that will require private employers to provide paid sick leave, City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar measure to extend the same benefit to all city employees, including its many temporary workers.

Throughout the debate over the paid sick leave ordinance, opponents accused Council of hypocritically imposing a mandate on businesses that it wasn’t willing to impose on itself. Council Member Greg Casar, the lead proponent of the measure, insisted that the city would, in fact, subject itself to the same standards.

As is the case for the private sector, the new rules will take effect in October if Council approves the proposed resolution on Thursday.

Paid sick leave for all city employees has in fact been in the works since the passage of the most recent city budget in September, which included $253,000 to start a pilot program offering temporary and part-time employees in some departments paid sick leave, in an attempt to assess the fiscal impact.

At the Council work session on Tuesday, Human Resources Director Joya Hayes explained that the pilot program never took place because staff didn’t have the time to implement one before Council began making moves to implement a citywide ordinance.

As a result, Hayes explained, she is going to use at least some of the money allocated for the pilot to pay a marketing firm to conduct a public awareness campaign to educate employers around the city about the new sick leave rules.

Hayes does not know yet how many employees she will need to oversee enforcement of the new rules, but she said she will likely include a request for several full-time employees in the budget that Council will begin reviewing in August. Until that point, said Hayes, she wants to immediately hire two to three temporary employees to deal with the deluge of questions from business owners about the new ordinance.

“Calls are already coming in (from employers). People are looking for answers,” she said.

Hayes also said it was hard to estimate the fiscal impact of the new benefit. Not only is it hard to predict how many sick days employees will take, but not every absence will have the same impact: In some cases a city agency will be able to make do without the worker for a day, while in other cases, a department will have to pay another worker to fill in.

Council Member Alison Alter said she was concerned about what impact paid sick leave might have on certain city departments, particularly the Parks and Recreation Department, which employs the largest number of temporary workers. She suggested adding a clause to the resolution that would specify that staff would not cut any services or programs in response to the new employee benefit.

“This is going to hit the parks department really hard,” she said. “It’s really critical that this money not come out of the programs.”

Casar objected to Alter’s framing of the issue. Universal paid sick leave would simply be a part of the city’s budget from now on, he said, just like health insurance or any other employee benefit. If the city manager proposes a cut to a program in this year’s budget, it wouldn’t make sense to attribute it solely to one of the city’s many cost drivers, he said.

Casar added that he was concerned about “setting boundaries” on how the city manager crafts a proposed budget. He suggested instead adding language that would clarify that the new sick leave benefit should be an “addition” to current programs and that staff is not expected to offset the cost with commensurate cuts.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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