It has been reported that a lawsuit has been filed in State District Court to have Albuquerque’s proposed mandatory sick leave ordinance known as the “Healthy Workforce Ordinance” invalidated declaring that it is a form of “voter fraud” and alleging it is an unconstitutional ordinance. (See April 4, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “Lawsuit targets proposed sick leave ordinance”.)
The lawsuit also seeks to set aside changes to Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance enacted by city voter referendum a few years ago.
It is not at all surprising that the lawsuit was filed by the association of Commerce and Industry, the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the National Association of Industrial Office Parks.
The lawsuit is clearly a “pre-emptive strike” to subvert the possible passage of the ordinance by voters.
The lawsuit is nothing more than a fear and loathing of voters and the working class by the business community.
The “Healthy Workforce Ordinance” is not even the law yet but hopefully will be placed on October’s ballot by the Albuquerque City Council for voter approval.
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.
During the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, the legislature enacted an increase of New Mexico’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9.25 an hour which was vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez.
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 Albuquerque’s 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
In the summer 2016, supporters of “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 if the Albquerquer City Council in fact puts it on the ballot.
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.
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 intend to vote 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 26+ major business organizations has been formed to raise a significant amount of money to oppose the initiative, not only in Court, but in this 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 publicly 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 cannot 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.
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.