Municipal Laws Mandating Paid Sick Leave Declared Unconstitutional

A Texas appeals court ruled today that municipal laws mandating employers provide paid sick leave to workers, like the ordinance approved by San Antonio City Council in August, are unconstitutional, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Austin ruled on a case brought by the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, but Annie Spilman, the group's director, says the San Antonio law is identical.

"We can now take it to San Antonio and other jurisdictions and that will show that our arguments against these laws have merti, and cities doing this is not constitutional," Spilman told News Radio 1200 WOAI.

The court ruled that the laws violate the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which prohibit cities from enacting minimum wages which must be followed by private businesses.  Cities and Counties do have the authority, just as private businesses have the authority, to set their own minimum wage at a rate higher than the $7.25 currently set by the state, but local governments cannot mandate that private businesses pay higher wages.

Spilman says it was time for small business to draw the line against government interference in employer-employee relationships.

"This paid sick leave was really the first of what we see as many coming down, which are being pushed by national labor unions," she said.

The appeals court rejected the arguments of the City of Austin that a law mandating sick leave is not a law regulating wages.  

"These definitions simply establish, as we conclude, that 'wage' generally refers to payment or compensation to these for work done or services rendered," the court said in its ruling.  "These definitions do not, however, necessarily prelude the inclusion of paid sick leave in the meaning of 'wage.'  More importantly, under the terms of the Ordinance, employees who earn and take paid sick leave will be paid more than employees who work the same hours without paid sick leave.  Stated differently, employees who take sick leave will receive more pay per hour than actually worked.  Thus, the Ordinance establishes a wage."

Spilman says this is just one of several efforts underway to have the mandatory sick leave ordinances thrown out.  The Legislature will consider bills to overturn San Antonio's mandatory sick leave law.

"The cities should not interfere with a private employers rights to create their own employee benefits," she said.

The Texas AFL-CIO blasted the ruling.

"Today's ruling shows how out of touch the 3rd  Court is with what it means to work for a living. Rigging the rules by  counting paid sick leave as a 'wage' opens the door for unscrupulous  employers to pay less than $7.25 an hour and count any benefit -  including paid holidays - as part of the minimum wage. Texans understand  that while it may not be Christmas yet, this is a vintage Scrooge-like  interpretation of a law that already harms the lowest-wage earners in  our state," President Rick Levy said.



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