Again, Texas Republicans are not removing local labor protections
In the closing hours of the 87th Texas Legislative Session, House Democrats staged a walkout to kill a massive Republican voter suppression effort. Little noticed yet, the dramatic move has also knocked out a top priority from the business lobby for the past three years: a move to stop Texas cities from adopting virtually any local pro-work policies.
“Small business owners are deeply disappointed and frustrated with our elected leaders,” said Annie Spilman, Texas director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), in response to the sudden disappearance of Senate Bill 14. “Small business owners… have neither the time nor the resources to navigate a confusing and contradictory patchwork of local ordinances. ”
Had it been passed, SB 14 would have banned any local policies that require employers to provide paid sick leave, breaks or stable working hours. It would also have crushed the box banning orders that protect criminally convicted job applicants from discrimination. Business groups like NFIB, backed by billionaires like the Koch family, say such measures spell the end of bosses with low profit margins and make compliance difficult for companies operating in multiple cities. In Texas, a few of these local policies actually exist, although they have increased in recent years.
In 2010 and 2015, respectively, Austin and Dallas passed policies requiring construction workers to be given breaks every four hours. With its massive construction industry and sweltering summers, Texas is the nation’s deadliest state for construction workers, and there’s no federal mandate for breaks. In an effort to reduce fatalities, the nonprofit Workers’ Advocacy Project successfully pushed for the break measures. Austin also maintains an order preventing employers from asking questions about criminal history before extending a job offer, and voters in the northern Texas suburbs of Euless recently approved a proposal requiring large employers to provide shift schedules. work at least 10 days in advance.
In 2018, Austin became the first city in the South to pass an ordinance requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave. San Antonio and Dallas quickly adopted similar measures, but Texas Republicans have vowed to kill those policies. The pro-employer Texas Public Policy Foundation also filed lawsuits, alleging the measures amounted to an illegal minimum wage increase; the courts agreed, eventually stopping all three orders, effectively denying paid sick leave to hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers.
“SB 14 would make the Texas construction industry even more deadly than it already is,” said Emily Timm, co-executive director of Workers Defense, at a protest last month focused on defending workers. break policies. “And you put that in the context of each year average temperatures rise higher with climate change, and that means [lawmakers] want to take local breaks just when we need stronger protections. ”
SB 14 crossed the Senate in April with the unanimous support of Republicans and Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio Jr., and expected the pace to pass. Then in the House, labor rights advocates were able to convince lawmakers to water down the bill by protecting the break orders and the box ban. The Senate could have accepted the changes, but instead chose to go to a conference committee, where a group made up mostly of Republicans removed the protections. The delay pushed final approval of the bill to the last minute. When House Democrats snuck out of the Capitol on Sunday night to thwart the Republicans’ attack on voting rights, they also killed a handful of smaller measures that were below the agenda of the Room, including SB 14.
“It’s the lieutenant governor. [Dan Patrick] and that’s the ideology of the NFIB and their kind of holy war on workers rights – it’s a scorched earth approach and I think it burned them down in the end, ”said Rick Levy, president of the AFL-CIO of Texas. “This bill would have the force of law today if it had accepted the reasonable compromise worked out by the House.”
It was the second time Republicans had failed to pass a bill like SB 14. In 2019, a similar measure failed, angering employer advocates. Now the business lobby’s hopes rest on one or more special legislative sessions later this year, which Gov. Greg Abbott has promised meet. The governor sets the agenda for these meetings. Amid controversial battles over the vote and legislative redistribution, Republicans could get their third chance to erase protections for local workers.
This article was originally published by the Texas Watcher, a non-profit investigative media.
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