Austin workers deserve paid sick leave, and students can help them get it

Sam Groves

Last week was supposed to be historic for labor rights in Texas. The first paid sick leave ordinance in the state was scheduled to take effect in Austin on Oct. 1. Instead, protesters gathered outside State Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office last Monday to voice their frustration that the ordinance temporarily blocked due to a lawsuit.

The ordinance would require that all employers offer their employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, adding up to an annual maximum of six days for “small employers” and eight days for “medium or large employers.” It was passed in February, but in April the conservative group Texas Public Policy Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of business interests in the state. The Court of Appeals in the 3rd District of Texas temporarily blocked the ordinance in August.

Because it faces opposition from local businesses who claim the law will hurt them and dozens of Republican state lawmakers, implementing this policy will be an uphill battle. But it will be worth it for Austin workers, including financially independent students who work in Austin and stand to benefit from the ordinance. Students can help make the city healthier and more prosperous by challenging those business interests and pressuring elected officials to support this measure.

The best argument for this policy is that it’s the right thing to do. “No one should have to choose between work and being able to take care of yourself or a loved one if they’re sick,” said Ana Gonzalez, a policy advocate for the Workers Defense Project. Forcing employees to sacrifice their well-being in order to make a living is wrong.

Nevertheless, opponents argue that paid sick leave will hurt the economy by burdening local businesses. But a similar law passed in Connecticut earlier this decade produced “a modest impact or no impact on business operations,” according to a City University of New York study. In fact, the study noted that “employment levels rose in key sectors covered by the law, such as hospitality and health services.”

This underscores the positive impact that paid sick leave actually has on the economy wherever it is implemented. Studies show that policies like these increase worker morale and productivity, while decreasing turnover. So local business leaders need not worry.

Moreover, by discouraging people from coming into work sick, this measure improves public health and prevents the spread of disease. In cities that require paid sick leave, flu infection rates decreased by 6 to 7 percent. For UT, this means that students who work will be able to focus more on their health and well-being, while all students — whether they work or not — will benefit from living in a city with less disease.

“If you are able to stay home and not go to work, you’re not going to get everybody sick,” Gonzalez said. “You’re going to be able to recover faster. You’re going to be able to go back to work faster or go to the doctor or do whatever you need to do. So it really is a common sense policy.”

To secure the advantages of this policy, students can contact their elected officials and vote. They can also consult the list of 137 local businesses, produced by the Austin Independent Business Alliance in February, who oppose the ordinance. The list includes local favorites such as Amy’s Ice Creams and BookPeople. Students should consider whether these businesses deserve their patronage.

In Austin, there are approximately 223,000 workers without access to paid sick leave. Some of them are UT students, all of them deserve better, and together, we can bring that number down to zero.

Groves is a philosophy senior from Dallas.