Minimum Wage and “Healthy Work Force Act” Helps Working Class

Two issues that I feel very strongly about and support are increasing the minimum wage to the level of a “living wage” and the mandatory sick leave initiative know as the “Healthy Workforce Act”.

My support of both increasing the minimum wage and paying employees for sick leave is because of my background and coming from a working class family.

My father Paul Dinelli was a barber and my mother Rose Fresques Dinelli was a waitress.

LESSONS LEARNED

My mother was a waitress, an “at will” employee for some 35 years, with no pension and she was able to retire on her own savings and social security.

When I was about 10 years old, my mother needed to go to work full time to support a young family of four kids when my dad became 100% disabled. She fell back on her training from years past as a Harvey Girl at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque.

All her life, my mother was a fiercely independent woman and I respected and admired her immensely.

I remember vividly her struggles to keep our family together, often working “double shifts” as a waitress and working through the evenings past 11:30 p.m. and paid the minimum wage and earning tips.

My mother instilled in me the importance of caring and being compassionate for others, getting an education, working hard, taking pride in what you do for a living, helping those less fortunate and doing the right thing in life.

Supporting increasing the minimum wage and the mandatory sick leave initiative is the right thing to do for the working class people of Albuquerque.

ALBUQUERQUE’S MINIMUM WAGE ORDINANCE

Increasing the hourly minimum wage for work to a “living wage” level that a person can live on and perhaps support a family has been hotly contested for many years.

In the 2016 Presidential election it was argued that the minimum wage should be $15 dollars an hour.

When elected officials in congress and the states for that matter, refuse to do the right thing and fail to look out and take care of the working class, many times voters take matters into their own hands on a local level and push for public referendums and vote to fill the leadership void.

In 2012, by a two-to-one ratio, voters in the City of Albuquerque decided to raise the City’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $8.50 per hour.
The amended Ordinance also requires a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the minimum wage and the current minimum wage is $8.75 per hour.

Employers who provide healthcare or childcare benefits equal to or in excess of an annualized cost of $2,500.00, the minimum hourly rate payable to those employees is $1.00 less than the then-current minimum wage.

The Mayor, many Albuquerque City Councilors and the business community at the time opposed and actually campaigned against the minimum wage voter initiative.

Opponents argued increasing the minimum wage would destroy small businesses, especially the restaurant and service industries in Albuquerque.

None of the “doom and gloom” predicted happened and for four (4) years the minimum wage ordinance has been in effect.

Other New Mexico communities such as Santa Fe increased their minimum wage.

After enactment of the City’s minimum wage ordinance, the Mayor did not object to his appointed City Attorney saying the City did not have the resources to enforce the law against all businesses who violated the minimum wage law.

The current attitude of City Hall is that workers need to go to court on their own if they were not being paid what they were entitled to under the ordinance.

One lawsuit was filed by a group of waiters and waitresses and they prevailed.

THE PAID SICK LEAVE ORDINANCE

This past summer, supporters of the sick leave ballot initiative known as the “Healthy Workforce Act” gathered enough valid petition signatures from registered voters to place the initiative on the ballot.

The Southwest Organizing Project, among other organizations, led the campaign to get the signatures.

The campaign needed 14,218 signatures of registered voters but at least 24,000 valid signatures were gathered and submitted for verification.

The Bernalillo County Commission declined the Albuquerque City Council’s request to put the initiative on the November, 2016 ballot with a State District Court upholding the Commission’s decision not to put it on the ballot.

The District Court ruling makes it likely that the mandatory sick leave initiative will be placed on next year’ s 2017 municipal election ballot at the same time as the Mayor and City Council races.

A silver lining is that this may increase the 2017 Municipal election voter turnout.

The Healthy Workforce Act will require business owners to pay one (1) hour of sick leave for every thirty (30) hours worked.

Part time workers normally are not afforded paid sick leave and will likely be the biggest beneficiary from the ordinance.

Large employers would be required to offer seven sick days per year after working 40 hours a week for a full year. Workers with smaller businesses would earn five sick days per year.

Read the full proposal here:

https://healthyworkforceabqdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/albuquerque-healthy-workforce-initiative-2016-5-09-final-without-resolution.pdf

The sick leave ordinance is in a real sense is an extension of increasing the minimum wage initiative passed by voters three years ago. It is a first step toward a living wage.

The “paid sick leave” initiative will help the working class who have no rights, who are mostly “minimum wage” or low hourly wage workers and who are overwhelmingly “at will” employees in the private sector.

“At will” employees can be terminated without any cause or notice by their employers.

“At will” employees have little or no employment rights and no real vested rights in their jobs except those already required by law such as being paid the minimum wage.

Federal and state laws governing working conditions also provide protections to workers and prohibit sexual harassment and retaliation.

I support the mandatory sick leave initiative and will be voting for it.

ENFORCING MINIMUM WAGE AND HEALTHY WORKFORCE ACT

The existing minimum wage ordinance and the sick leave ordinance if enacted by voters need to be enforced by the City, and not by the hourly wage workers, because these are the City’s ordinances.

Every single business in Albuquerque is required to register and have a license to do business and must agree to adhere to all enacted city ordinances and laws. Businesses cannot pick and choose what laws and City Ordinances they want to follow.

The City Attorney’s office and Planning Department have the authority to enforce existing ordinances.

Businesses licensed by the City can be ordered to follow the minimum wage law or the City will take court action to have their business licenses revoked and secure Court Orders to shut down the businesses for violating the law.

The City Attorney’s Office needs to do the right thing and enforce the existing minimum wage ordinance and the sick leave ordinance if enacted by the voters.

A COALITION OF THE USUAL OPPOSING SUSPECTS

A coalition of some 30+ major business organizations has already been formed to raise a significant amount of money to oppose the initiative, not only in Court, but in next year’s municipal election. The coalition includes as members:

• Apartment Association of New Mexico
• Associated Builders and Contractors
• Associated General Contractors New Mexico
• Albuquerque Economic Forum
• Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce
• American Subcontractors Association of New Mexico
• Commercial Association of Realtors New Mexico
• Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors
• Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce
• Home Builders of Central New Mexico
• National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP)
• New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry
• New Mexico Restaurant Association
• New Mexico Utility Contractors Association.

Notice not a single “mom and pop” or small business is listed?

What is interesting is a few of the organizations that oppose the sick leave ordinance have said publically it’s a good idea in concept, many businesses voluntarily provide for paid sick leave, but they feel it will be an accounting nightmare and do not like the “red tape”.

The truth is, most of the coalition members do not like being on the financial hook for increasing wages or benefits they have to pay to their employees or being told by government what they should pay their employees.

Arguments that are being used to oppose the sick leave initiative are identical or similar to those made against increasing the minimum wage and include:

1. It will destroy small businesses
2. Businesses can not afford it
3. People will be laid off
4. A small business will have to cut down on hours offered to work
5. Too much “red tape” to prepare and keep track of sick leave
6. Too much government regulation or intervention
7. No need for it, because many businesses already pay sick leave
8. Unskilled workers are already paid enough
9. “At will” employees do not want such a benefit

The arguments made against the sick leave ordinance, as was the case with the minimum wage, have little or no merit and no credible financial impact studies or compiled data has been offered to substantiate the claims, at least not yet.

I doubt if any of the coalition members listed will go bankrupt or be severely harmed financially by the sick leave ordinance, and for that reason, they should be ashamed of themselves. They need to be more appreciative of their employees.

The sick leave benefit will help attract and keep hardworking employees.

CONCLUSION

The proponents of the ordinance and opposing business coalition should have gotten together, along with City leadership, to come up with a solution that was acceptable and workable for all the parties.

That would have been called leadership that is so lacking at City Hall.

During Albuquerque’s 2017 municipal election, voters need to demand and ask where the candidates for Mayor and City Council stand on the issue and say what they will do if elected on enforcing the ordinances.

It now will be up to voters to decide what should be done.

This entry was posted in Opinions by . Bookmark the permalink.

About

Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.