Progress For Workers In Texas Cities Under Threat By Sweeping Legislation

Juan Pedro Muoz has spent nearly three decades working in the construction industry and is familiar with what it’s like to labor outside in the Texas summer heat. And knowing how important it is to drink water and take breaks from the sun is part of that, he claimed.

“It’s necessary to get a break, whether it’s five, 10 or 15 minutes — especially in the summer,” Muñoz said. Without such breaks, “you could get a heat stroke, you could faint and have to go to the hospital.”

As the owner of Austin-based residential remodeling company Muñoz Remodels, he gives his four employees breaks. He said adequate rest ensures worker quality and safety.

Austin followed suit in 2010 by mandating a 10-minute break for construction workers every four hours. 2015. Dallas followed. Muñoz says the rule empowers workers to demand rest breaks rather than relying on employers. “The workers know now what the law grants them,” said Muñoz, a construction worker advocate with the Workers Defense Project.

A Joint Announcement For Last Month

This may change soon. These rest-break ordinances are part of a 15-year trend in Texas, which has lagged behind other states in statewide labor protections, of cities and counties adopting local worker benefits and safeguards. Republican state lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would severely limit local labor regulation, making such ordinances impossible.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe’s companion legislation would place a “field preemption” on the state’s labor code, preventing cities and counties from passing labor-related ordinances beyond state law. Gov. Greg Abbott approved House Bill 2127 and Senate Bill 814.

In a joint announcement last month, lawmakers said this is needed to “provide regulatory consistency for small businesses” and “return exclusive regulatory power to the state.”

Dustin Burrows tweeted that Texas small businesses jump through contradictory and confusing hoops. You can see below: 

“It’s a ‘stay in your lane’ bill,” Burrows added at a February event hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business. “If you’re a city, do your core functions. If you’re a county, do your core functions.”

The Alliance for Securing and Strengthening the Economy in Texas (ASSET), which includes the NFIB and 18 Texas business groups in construction, real estate, hospitality, and oil, supports the proposal. HB 2127 and SB 814 are also priorities for the NFIB, a lobbying group with over 20,000 members in Texas that has long advocated for such legislation nationwide.

“These small-business owners don’t have in-house compliance officers or attorneys that can help them figure out over a thousand different sets of local laws,” said Annie Spilman, NFIB’s Texas director. “They’re having a hard enough time keeping up with all the state and federal laws.”

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Labor groups, which have called the legislation “the death star,” say it would limit cities’ and counties ability to improve working conditions. For many advocacy groups and local officials, the bills also threaten local control in cities and counties. Opponents called HB 2127 the “ending local freedom act” at a Wednesday press conference.

“[The legislation] goes so far beyond anything we’ve ever seen in this realm before,” Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions with 240,000 members, told The Texas Tribune.

“[The legislation] goes so far beyond anything we’ve ever seen in this realm before,” Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions in the state with around 240,000 affiliated members, told The Texas Tribune.

Texas Cities Under Threat By Sweeping Legislation

At the same time, other Republican lawmakers have also filed bills focusing on local labor regulations — though they are narrower in scope. Their languages also echo that of Senate Bill 14 from 2021, a Creighton-led legislative effort that stirred up a major fight and was narrowly defeated twice. Some include:

  • Senate Bill 130 — filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels — targets a range of local policies regulating employment benefits like paid sick leave.
  • House Bill 121 and Senate Bill 563 are identical legislation filed respectively by Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, and Sen. Kevin Sparks, R-Midland. These bills would override local ordinances related to employee benefits as well as hiring and scheduling practices “or other terms of employment” for all workers. Beyond paid sick leave, they could also include predictive scheduling, which requires employers to provide workers with their schedules in advance to help make them more predictable and consistent.

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