Texas has a reputation for being a pretty conservative place. Politically, the Republican party holds a trifecta of power at the state level—the governor, the state House and Senate are all controlled by Republicans and have been for quite some time.
So, why did two Texas cities, Austin and San Antonio, enact paid sick leave ordinances this year? Will they survive? Is paid sick leave coming to Texas?
Texas is a large and diverse state. Broad swaths of the state identify as conservatives, and voters consistently send conservative politicians to the state capitol. But not the entire state.
If you compare demographic and political data across the country, you’ll notice a common theme: most people in large, densely populated urban areas tend to identify as liberal and vote for Democrats.
This is also true in Texas. Austin, for instance, has a reputation for being dominated by liberals in stark contrast to the areas around it. This is important to keep in mind when looking at labor law changes around the country.
A trend we’ve seen over time is that places, where conservatives are in control of state government and liberals, are in control of local jurisdictions, those local jurisdictions enact worker-friendly labor laws in the absence of action at the state level.
This is exactly what happened in Texas. The Texas legislature and the governor have no political incentive to enact paid sick leave laws, but San Antonio and Austin local-elected officials represent a constituency that wants such policies enacted, so they act on behalf of those individuals. From this perspective, seeing paid sick leave laws enacted at the local level in Texas makes a lot of sense.
The question is, will workers in Austin and San Antonio ever get these paid sick leave hours? Not likely. Shortly after Austin enacted its paid sick leave ordinance, lawsuits were filed, and the court system enjoined the law, preventing it from going into effect until the court dispute was settled.
Additionally, state legislators said their top priority for the next legislative session in 2019 will be to retroactively preempt local governments from enacting such ordinances.
In short, it’s unlikely that employers in Austin and San Antonio will be required to provide paid sick leave benefits to their employees in 2019. Local elected officials in both cities are responding to their constituencies, and the state legislators and the governor will respond to theirs in 2019.
Most likely, officials at both levels of government will follow the political incentives laid out before them in 2019. Then again, unexpected events occur, and political winds can shift by the hour.