When elected officials fail to show any leadership on an issue despite voter demands for action, voters take matters into their own hands to fill the leadership void.
Supporters of the paid sick leave ballot initiative known as the “Healthy Workforce Act” did just that and gathered enough valid signatures from registered voters to place the initiative on the ballot.
The campaign needed 14,218 registered voter signatures but at least 24,000 signatures were gathered and submitted.
The Bernalillo County Commission refused the Albuquerque City Council’s request to put the sick leave initiative on the 2016 November ballot.
Time has now passed to put the initiative on the February, 2017 Albuquerque Public School Board and Central New Mexico Community College Board ballot.
The Albuquerque City Council will now put the mandatory paid sick leave initiative on the October 3 municipal ballot.
HEALTHY WORKFORCE INITIATIVE
I support the mandatory sick leave initiative and will be voting for it.
The mandatory sick leave ordinance known as 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 are normally not afforded paid sick leave and will likely be the biggest beneficiary of 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 employed by smaller businesses would earn five sick days per year.
The sick leave ordinance is an extension of increasing the minimum wage initiative passed by Albuquerque voters three years ago and is a step toward a living wage.
The “paid sick leave” initiative will help the workers 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 cause or notice by their employers.
The sick leave benefit will help attract and keep dedicated employees.
“At will” employees have little or no employment rights and no real vested rights in their jobs other than 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.
ENFORCING MINIMUM WAGE AND HEALTHY WORKFORCE ACT
The sick leave ordinance if enacted by voters along with the minimum wage ordinance need to be enforced by the city because they are city ordinances.
Hourly wage workers should be able to rely on government enforcement.
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 the City Planning Department have the authority to enforce existing ordinances.
The city can demand that businesses that do business with the city and that are licensed by the city pay the minimum wage and sick leave required by the ordinances.
The city can take court action to have business licenses revoked and secure court orders to shut down the businesses for violating the ordinances if necessary to compel compliance.
Under direction or the Mayor, 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.
COALITION OF THE USUAL SUSPECTS
A coalition of some 30+ major business organizations has been formed to raise a significant amount of money to oppose the mandatory sick leave 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.
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.
Republican candidates for Mayor Dan Lewis and Wayne Johnson oppose the increase in the minimum wage and oppose the mandatory sick leave ordinance.
Republican County Commissioner Wayne Johnson was the only County Commissioner to show up to the District Court and deliberately sit at counsel table for all to see him during the hearing where an effort was made to have the the District Court order the county to put the initiative on the November 2016 ballot.
Both Lewis and Johnson no doubt will be seeking support from the coalition members for financial support for their runs for Mayor.
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 the coalition members do not like being on the financial hook for increasing wages or benefits they have to pay to their employees and resist government regulations.
Most if not all of the same business organizations oppose increasing the minimum wage, want right to work laws, oppose increasing taxes even for essential services and want more corporate and business tax cuts.
Arguments that are being used to oppose the mandatory 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 accounting to keep track of sick leave
6. Too much government regulation
7. Many businesses already pay sick leave
8. Unskilled workers are paid enough
9. “At will” employees do not want paid sick leave
The arguments made against the sick leave ordinance, as was the case with the minimum wage, have little or no merit.
No credible financial impact studies or compiled data has been offered to substantiate the claims, at least not yet.
The proponents of the ordinance and opposing business coalition should have gotten together, along with city leadership, and come up with a solution that was acceptable and workable for all the parties.
That would have been called leadership but that is what is seriously 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.
Voters need to demand candidates say what they will do if elected on enforcing the ordinances.
Voters will decide what will be done because our elected officials failed to act.