Almost two (2) months before the October 3, 2017 municipal election, advocates supporting the Healthy Workforce Ordinance are trying to block the City Clerk and the City from using what they are calling an illegal ballot for the municipal election.
(See July 20, 2017 Albuquerque Journal article, METRO & New Mexico Section, page C-1, “Motion filed to block city on sick leave ballot; Group says plan to use 7-type will make initiative illegible”.)
The Healthy Workforce Ordinance would require the payment of sick leave or “sick time off” for full-time, part time and temporary workers by any business within the Albuquerque city limits.
A State District Court Judge ordered the city to print the entire seven-page ordinance on the ballot.
To print the ordinance on the ballot, the City Clerk must print the initiative in 7 point font in order to make it fit with all the others items on the ballot, including the Mayor and City Council races.
The “emergency motion” filed by supporters say the ballot is made “illegible” and unreadable with the use of seven (7) point font thereby making it “illegal”.
Supporters of the ordinance want the City Clerk to place a “summary” of the ordinance on the ballot which is done when bonds are put on the ballot.
Supporters also want the city to provide a legible, large text copy of the entire ordinance in each of the voting booths so voters can read it if they want at the time they vote.
Mayor Richard Berry opposes the proposed measure as he did the increase in the minimum wage initiative enacted by voter a few years ago.
The organizing groups that were able to get it on the ballot claim that the Mayor, city councilors and city hall are excluding the more readable summary about the ordinance on the ballot as a way of defeating the law.
HEALTHY WORK FORCE ORDINANCE REQUIREMENTS
The ordinance 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 “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.
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 MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL COULD ACT
It is a sad commentary that the city refuses to accommodate or agree with use of a summary or provide copies of the ordinance in the voting booth for an initiative that took so much work to get on the ballot.
In the summer 2016, supporters of “Healthy Workforce Act” gathered enough valid petition signatures from registered voters to get it on the ballot.
The campaign needed 14,218 signatures of registered voters but at least 24,000 valid signatures were gathered and submitted for verification.
Even though a court order mandates that the City place the entire seven-page ordinance on the ballot, it does not mean the Mayor or the City Council are prohibited from taking further action to educate the public on its content.
The Mayor by executive order could instruct the City Clerk to provide legible copies of the ordinance to voters to read before or at the time of voting, but there is no way he would do that seeing as that he opposes the ordinance as he did the increase in the minimum wage voter initiative.
The City Council still needs to approve and vote on the definitive version of the ballot and the council could vote to give the City Clerk further instructions that would not violate the court order.
It is the responsibility of the City Clerk to educate the public on the ballot.
The District Court will have one last opportunity to give further instructions to the City and the City Clerk and perhaps order the Mayor and the City Clerk to do their jobs on educating the public on the contents of the ordinance.
A coalition of 27 businesses and business organizations was formed last year to oppose the Healthy Workforce ordinance in court and includes:
• 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.
A “measured finance” committee called “ALBUQUERQUE COALITION FOR A HEALTHY ECONOMY” has also been formed to mount a campaign to fund and oppose the ordinance.
It is anticipated that both the business coalition and the measured finance committee will be expending considerable resources to defeat the measure.
It is important that the City do whatever it can to inform the public on the content of the ordinance.
Candidates for Mayor need to articulate where they stand on the ordinance and if elected say if they will enforce it.
A silver lining is that the ordinance may increase the 2017 Municipal election voter turnout.
However, the fact that it is on the ballot will cut both ways.
Progressives Democrats and conservative Republicans may turn out in force to vote.
The business coalition may be able to get more conservative business owner’s and Republicans to the polls which will ultimately skew in Republican candidates favor.
The recent defeat of the Santa Fe “soda tax” shows how effective a well funded opposition campaign can be in a municipal election.
Statistics show that more young people are leaving the city each passing year seeking employment and upward mobility elsewhere which means Albuquerque is getting older and more conservative.