DALLAS (CN) — A Texas federal judge blocked a Dallas ordinance that requires businesses to offer paid sick leave, further impacting hourly employees dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan in Sherman issued a preliminary injunction late Monday against the city’s earned paid sick time ordinance that went into effect last August. The ruling comes two days before the city planned on enforcing the ordinance for the first time.
The ordinance allowed hourly workers to accrue sick leave if they work at least 80 hours within city limits per year. Employers must award one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked and face fines for firing or otherwise retaliating against employees for taking sick time.
Two private employers in Collin County – ESI-Employee Solutions LP and Hagan Law Group LLC – joined Texas in suing Dallas last July, claiming the city is overreaching with an ordinance that violates employers’ civil rights and state labor laws.
Judge Jordan, appointed by President Donald Trump, wrote his decision to block enforcement of the ordinance is meant to “uphold the state constitution and statutory provisions preempting” it.
“Whether or not paid sick leave requirements should be imposed by government on private employers is an important public policy issue, made even more significant under the challenging circumstances faced by our nation at this moment,” the 63-page opinion states. “The state of Texas, through its constitutional structure and statutory law, has committed that public policy decision to the Texas Legislature.”
Jordan cited a ruling by the state’s Third Court of Appeals in Austin in concluding the ordinance violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act, a law that supersedes any wage established by a city ordinance.
“Working in concert, these TMWA provisions unequivocally yoke the minimum wage in Texas to the TMWA itself and the federal minimum wage, explicitly preempting upward departures imposed by municipalities,” the opinion states. “If the paid sick leave required by the ordinance establishes a wage, it is preempted by the TMWA and unenforceable.”
Jordan conceded the Texas Supreme Court has yet to rule on the specific preemption issue in this case, but wrote that he “has no reason to believe” the state’s high court would reach a different conclusion than the appeals court in Austin.
The judge further concluded the employers suing Dallas will suffer irreparable harm to comply with the ordinance if he did not issue the injunction.
“The employer-plaintiffs have shown that, in addition to paying employees when they take accrued sick leave time, they will also need to hire additional personnel to oversee compliance, update training materials, rearrange the mix of pay and benefits offered to employees, raise client rates, and change acquisition and benefit priorities,” the opinion states. “Although these injuries are economic in nature, which normally counsels against irreparable harm, they are not compensable because the city of Dallas enjoys governmental immunity as a home-rule city under Texas law.”
Dallas city councilman Adam Bazaldua blasted the ruling as “disgraceful” and “very devastating” to the community.
“It is beyond disheartening that we have conservative leadership who are actively working to take away some of these solutions that were already in place,” he tweeted late Monday evening, “I was proud to join a city council that fought for this right to be implemented and I remain proud to stand with this body as we fight this ruling and continue to fight for the hard working people of Dallas.”
Labor activists quickly blasted the ruling as piling more hardship onto hourly workers who are being fired, furloughed or having their hours greatly reduced due to several stay-at-home orders being issued throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Austin-based Workers Defense Project tweeted, “We are outraged by this decision and cannot imagine a time when paid sick leave is more important and more necessary.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, blamed state leaders for deciding not to accept federal money for the expansion of Medicaid in Texas and leaving 500,000 people in the county without health insurance. In Texas, counties’ chief executives are called county judges.
“Now they sue and knock out #paidsickleave,” he tweeted. “#GreedOverPeople at a time when workers need paid sick [leave] to keep our community safe.”
The plaintiff employers are represented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Its attorney, Robert Henneke, said the judge’s ruling was expected.
“It’s not constitutional for cities to interfere with the employer-employee relationship in this manner pre-empted by state law,” Henneke said.