Dallas City Council exploded into a firestorm of debate and accusations last week before passing an anti-worker paid sick leave mandate.
The mandate requires employers to provide an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work performed, with a maximum of 64 hours per year per employee for medium to large employers and 48 hours for small ones. Similar mandates have caused economic pain in cities that have enacted it, and Austin’s version is currently tied up in the courts. With these types of mandates, employees have frequently experienced cuts in pay and benefits, fewer working hours, and even layoffs.
A petition drive to put the issue before Dallas voters failed last year, but the mandate was revived when five members of the council signed a request in March for Mayor Mike Rawlings to put it on the council agenda for a vote.
At the recent council meeting, Rawlings exposed the corruption behind the movement for the mandate, saying one city councilman had been bribed to influence him into putting the mandate before voters last November. That councilman appears to be former Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, who was forced to resign after pleading guilty last August to charges of public corruption relating to the Dallas County Schools bribery scandal.
Wealthy Dallas developer Ruel Hamilton, who pushed strongly for a public vote on the paid sick leave mandate, is believed to be behind the bribe to Caraway. Hamilton was indicted in February on federal charges of bribing ex-Dallas City Councilmember Carolyn Davis in a scheme involving low-income housing credits, as well as an unnamed council member matching the description of Caraway.
According to the indictment, Hamilton “urgently sought Council Person A’s official assistance in facilitating the late addition of a referendum item” to the agenda of the August 2, 2018 Dallas City Council meeting:
“Hamilton to Council Person A: ‘So I was told that if there is anybody that could get the Mayor to put it on the agenda for the 8th, that would be Councilman [Council Person A].’”
If passed by council, the referendum item—believed to be the paid sick leave mandate—would have been added to the November 2018 ballot.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Rawlings said he had been contacted by “big-name politicians” who were asking him to put the measure on the November ballot—not because they expected it to pass, but to turn out the vote. “Guess when [this] shows up [again],” Rawlings asked. “The last Wednesday before Election Day.”
At the same meeting, Rawlings expressed doubt about City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s ability to implement and enforce it by August, stating the city didn’t even know how many businesses were within its limits.
District 14 Councilman Phillip Kingston, one of the five signers asking Rawlings to put the mandate on the agenda, disagreed. “All we’re doing here is making sure that the residents of the City of Dallas have reasonable protection of their public health,” he said in agreement with those who testified they had to work in restaurants while sick.
However, there are already regulations in place that address this issue: both the State of Texas Health and Safety Code (Sec. 438.032), as well as the City of Dallas in its code (Volume 1, Chapter 17), including a list of which city officials are responsible for enforcement.
District 5 Councilman Rickey Callahan failed in an attempt to delay the vote until June, out of fear that potential legislation from Austin may cancel it out. District 1 Councilman and mayoral candidate Scott Griggs, also one of the signatories for Rawlings to bring the mandate before council, opposed any delay.
District 11 Councilman Lee Kleinman wanted to know the cost to Dallas taxpayers, and while Broadnax said there would be no “direct impact” on the general and enterprise funds of the city, he did not know if additional city staff would need to be hired for enforcement.
District 10 Councilman Adam McGough, fearing the burden on local businesses, tried to amend the mandate into a voluntary online review system that would allow people to decide for themselves whether or not to frequent restaurants based on their ratings. McGough’s amendment was defeated.
In the end, the mandate passed 10-4, with council members McGough, Gates, Kleinman, and Mayor Rawlings voting against it. The policy is set take effect in August.