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Petition To Put Paid Sick Leave In Dallas On Ballot Fails; Group Demands Recount

A petition to let Dallas voters decide whether employers across the city should be required to give employees paid sick leave fell short. Now, organizers are demanding the city secretary take another look at the signatures. 

A coalition of Texas-based community groups turned in more than 110,000 signatures in June to the city in a petition to put a paid sick leave ordinance on the November ballot. After verifying those signatures, Bilierae Johnson, the city secretary, on Monday said almost half of them didn’t count, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Johnson said 30,000 of the signatures couldn’t be confirmed as registered voters. Another chunk came from people outside of Dallas; others were collected outside of the allowed time frame or were duplicates.

The petition needed support from 10 percent of registered voters in Dallas — nearly 54,000 valid signatures — to get the issue on the ballot this fall, but it came up short by 871.

The Texas Civil Rights Project sent a letter Tuesday on behalf of Working Texans for Paid Sick Time — one of the organizers of the petition — demanding the city secretary complete a recount and re-examine the signatures by July 24. 

Working Texans for Paid Sick Time said it’s considering all available options, including legal action. 

Paid sick leave efforts in Dallas and across Texas

Under the proposed policy, everyone who works in Dallas would earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, up to six or eight days a year, depending on the size of the business. The proposal was backed by some Dallas City Council members, including Philip Kingston, who helped organizers get the petition drive off the ground.

An estimated 41 percent of workers in Dallas (more than 300,000 people) don’t have paid sick leave, and low-income and part-time workers are especially unlikely to be covered, according to a recent analysis.

Even with Dallas' initiative seemingly scuttled, paid sick leave is queuing up as the next major battle over local control in Texas.

The Dallas petition was part of a larger political effort to require paid sick time across cities in Texas, particularly for workers in service industries, like restaurants and day cares. Austin passed an ordinance this year mandating paid sick leave, and organizers in San Antonio are working to get the issue on the ballot this fall.

That effort has already drawn strong opposition from state legislators, who say legislation may be necessary to block cities from requiring employers to offer paid time off to employees who are sick.

In April, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined a lawsuit filed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and a number of business organizations that argue city ordinances requiring employers to offer paid sick leave are in violation of the Texas Minimum Wage Act because they're forcing employers to pay more than the state's lowest legal wage.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.