Council unanimously votes to explore paid sick leave

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted unanimously late Thursday night to develop a policy for private employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about one out of every three workers in Austin does not have it.

About a dozen people spoke in front of city council Thursday night, most in favor of the plan. The purpose of a future ordinance would be to help many who are in low income jobs have the opportunity to take a sick day and not have to worry about losing money. Council member Greg Casar sponsored the measure and says offering paid sick leave promotes someone to go to the doctor when they aren’t feeling well, reduces their recovery time and decreases the likelihood of someone spreading illness at work.

“I think this is a really powerful opportunity to create a more free and just city and just economy,” said Casar.

This measure would mainly affect those in the food service industry and construction. A representative from the Workers Defense Project told the story about Carlos, a single father working construction.

“When his girls are sick he can’t take care of them, he can’t take the day off to take them to the doctor because he can’t afford it,” says Jose Garza with the Workers Defense Project. “He has to take them to school sick.”

According to the Public Welfare Foundation, parents who don’t have paid sick time are more than twice as likely as parents with paid sick time to send a sick child to school or day care, and five times as likely to report taking their child or a family member to a hospital emergency room because they were unable to take time off work during their regular work hours.

“I think it’s really important that we talk about the public health aspects of it,” says Council Member Ann Kitchen. “That’s something many don’t stop and think about.”

But not everyone is sold on the idea. Some who spoke before council worry it could impact future jobs.

“The higher mandatory costs you place on every single new hire in this city will result in less hiring, and less jobs, and less opportunities for citizens of this city,” said Adam Con of Austin.

That concern has been echoed by some businesses about the added cost.

But other business owners say there are ways to make it work. Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets has offered paid sick time off for employees all 46 years it’s been in business.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said president and owner Scott Click.

Click says he employees about 70 people. He estimated he spends about $82,000 every year allowing his employees to take paid sick days.

“It’s an investment in our employees and helping them be the best they can be,” Click said. “An unhealthy, unhappy employee is not someone you want around.”

Between now and February a stakeholder group will gather feedback from business owners, workers and health organizations with the goal of coming up with an ordinance to present to council.

There’s no state law saying employers have to provide paid sick time in the state of Texas. In fact, only Arizona, California and the District of Columbia require all businesses to pay their employees for sick days. Some other states have laws that say businesses which employ more than a certain number of people have to offer paid sick days, too.

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