On Monday August 9, 2019, the Bernalillo County Commission passed the Employee Wellness Act on a 3-2 vote after a highly contentious meeting, hours of public discussion and board debate. The act is also referred to as the employer “paid sick leave ordinance.” The county ordinance does not go into effect until July 1, 2020 and then will only apply to businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county, including the East Mountains and the South Valley.
Many changes to the county ordinance were made before it was enacted. The changes included redefining the benefit as the less-specific “paid time off” and requiring a county administrative process before any alleged offender can be sued and limiting the financial penalties for an infraction. County officials said the “paid time off” change aligns with modern workplace benefits packages and reduces the administrative burden of tying leave to health or medical uses requiring a doctor’s statement.
The act requires businesses with at least 2 employees to provide workers with at least one hour of paid time off for every 32 hours worked. The county will phase in the mandate over several years. Under the phase in, the law does not entitle workers to accrue more than 24 hours of leave during the first year of implementation, 40 hours in the second year and 56 hours in the third year and beyond. The county ordinance does not prevent companies from offering more generous benefits.
No businesses in the city will be required to provide sick leave under the ordinance.
DEMOCRATIC DYNAMIC DUO GETTING INTO THE ACT
A mere 4 days after the Bernalillo County Commission enacted the paid sick leave ordinance, Albuquerque City Councilors Pat Davis, District 6, and Isaac Benton, District 2, ordered an economic analysis of the paid sick leave legislation enacted by the county to see how it would work in Albuquerque. It was late in 2018 that Davis introduced a “paid sick leave” bill for the city council to consider. The paid sick leave ordinance has yet to have a committee hearing and make it to the full council for a vote. Davis said he knows his bill “lacks enough votes” on the nine-member council to pass it even though the council is controlled by a Democratic majority of 6 to 3 Republicans.
Davis claims he wants to change his 2018 proposed ordinance to make it identical to the county ordinance by saying:
“I do think the county’s bill strikes the right balance for businesses and workers, and everybody gets a little something. … If that’s what it takes to get us leave for all folks, I’m down for that. … There’s a real conversation about consistency, and how we apply the law between the city and the county … Even though the county legislation doesn’t have everything I’d like to have in it, there’s a good argument that the city law is consistent for employers and workers, no matter what side of the line they work on. … What this shows us is the county commission found a balance between business interests and workers that they could find majority support for. … That’s putting new pressure back on the other colleagues at the city council who have those same concerns.”
Benton for his part had this to say about the economic analysis he is requesting:
“Every worker deserves to have access to paid leave for life’s emergencies, and it makes sense that employees and businesses in both the city and the county should expect some consistency in our law. … This study will tell us if that is feasible. … No business can succeed with workers who can’t get time off when they need it. ”
PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS VOTED DOWN
Two previous attempts to require paid sick leave in Albuquerque have failed, one at the city council level and one at the ballot .
Supporters of the paid sick leave ballot initiative known as the “Healthy Workforce Act” 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. Notwithstanding the success of getting the ordinance on the ballot, it failed and lost by a slim margin of about 600 votes.
The Healthy Workforce Act would have required business owners to pay one (1) hour of sick leave for every thirty (30) hours worked. Part time workers who normally are not afforded paid sick leave would have been the biggest beneficiary of the ordinance. Large employers would have been required to offer 7 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.
A 2017 city council bill sponsored by Republican City Councilor Don Harris and Democrat Ken Sanchez would have required all companies in the city with 50 or more employees to provide mandatory sick leave to their workers. The proposed law would have affected only 6% of the city’s employers. It was reported at the time 94% of all employers in Bernalillo County have fewer than 50 workers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015 there were 15,746 private sector establishment in the county, which includes the city. Of those, 14,846 had fewer than 50 employees. A grand total of 900 had 50 or more workers. The bill was voted down in council committee.
DYNAMIC DUO CITY COUNCILORS SEEKING REELECTION
Both Democrats City Councilors Issac Benton and Pat Davis are running for another term on the Albuquerque City Council and will be on the November 5, 2019 ballot.
Democrat Isaac (Ike) Benton is the District 2 City Councilor and was first elected to the council in 2005. Benton is a retired architect and avowed urbanist. Benton’s city council district includes a large area of downtown Central and the North Valley which leans left and is heavily Hispanic. Benton ran unopposed in 2015. Democrat (D) Isaac Benton has 5 opponents: Steve Baca (D), Joseph Griego (D), Robert Raymond Blanquera Nelson (D), Zack Quintero, (D) and Connie Vigil, Independent.
Democrat City Councilor Pat Davis was elected to the Albuquerque City Council on October 6, 2015 to represent District 6. District 6 encompasses the International District, Mesa Del Sol, Nob Hill, Southeast Heights, and the University of New Mexico. Last year, Davis ran unsuccessfully for US Congress in the First Congressional District. Davis withdrew from the race when he polled at 3% and could not raise the money to run a viable campaign. Before Davis withdrew from the congressional race, Davis had no problem accusing the then Democrat front runner former US Attorney Damon Martinez of being a “racist”, which was a lie, and Davis endorsed the eventual Democratic nominee who went on to become elected to congress. Democrat (D) Pat Davis has only one opponent: Gina Naomi Dennis a progressive Democrat, who is an attorney, a neighborhood activist and was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic Party National Convention in 2016.
TWO OTHER COUNCIL DISTRICT RACES
District 4 has 4 candidates who qualified for the ballot and running to replace Republican Brad Winter. Those candidates are: Brook L. Bassen, a Republican endorsed by Brad Winter and 3 Democrats Athena Ann Christodoulou, Ane C. Romero, Hailey Josselyn Roy. 4 candidates in District 4 sought public financing with the 3 securing the necessary $5.00 qualifying donations and they are Republican Brook L. Bassan, and Democrats Ane C. Romero and Haley Josselyn Roy.
District 8 Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones has one challenger and she is Democrat S. Maureen Sakowin who qualified for public financing. Trudy Jones has elected to finance her campaign with private financing and has never sought public financing of her campaigns. Both Trudy Jones and S. Maureen Sakowin collected the 500 petition signatures required to get on the ballot.
All the candidates who are running for city council in Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8 need to articulate their positions on a sick leave ordinance and how they would vote on such an ordinance it if elected to City Council.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Paid sick leave is considered a core Democratic value as is increasing the minimum wage. A “paid sick leave” law helps 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 allowed by law such as required being paid the minimum wage and federal and state laws governing working conditions, sexual harassment and retaliation. A mandatory sick leave ordinance is an extension of increasing the minimum wage and is considered a step toward a living wage.
Paid sick leave mandated by any government entity has always been a source of opposition by Albuquerque’s Republican business community as has been increasing the minimum wage by the New Mexico legislature. The Albuquerque business community and the private sector have consistently mounted aggressive opposition to any form of government imposed paid sick leave and increases in the minimum wage. The biggest arguments that are always made by the Republican business community is that such laws are unreasonable, that they disproportionately hurt small businesses that cannot afford to pay it, it brings hardship to job creators, it reduces flexibility with staffing and imposes unnecessary government regulations that interfere with business development adding unnecessary overhead cutting into profits needed to be a successful, thriving business.
TWO DEMOCRATS VOTING LIKE REPUBLICANS
The Democratic Dynamic Duo Isaac Benton and Pat Davis talk about the need for consistency. The only thing consistent from the Dynamic Duo of Benton and Davis are when they act and do things promoting their own self-interests and re-election bids. Both city councilors represent the more progressive and heavily Democratic districts of District 2 and 6. The districts have some of largest percentage of the working class and minorities. Both are facing tough reelection bids. Both have done little next to nothing over the last 4 years to get a sick leave ordinance passed by the city council until now.
One thing is for certain is that during the last 4 years, Benton and Davis have acted more like Republicans and not the progressives they proclaim to be within the Democratic Party. They both have voting records that are more Republican than Democrat with their support of the disastrous ART Bus project and supporting final adoption of the ABC-Z comprehensive plan, now known as the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). You can read more on the Benton and Davis voting records in the below blog article.
What people should be sick of are Democrats acting and talking like Republicans especially after they get elected to positions like City Council and arguing that they are being “nonpartisan”. Both City Councilors Isaac Benton and Pat Davis will say that they have done a great job as City Councilors by acting “non-partisan” and they needed to cooperate with Republicans to get things done, even though Democrats now hold a majority of 6-3 on the City Council and even though the Mayor is a Democrat.
There is a significant difference between cooperating and working with other elected officials from the opposite party and then being hypocritical and going against your own basic political philosophy of what you believe to be true and then turning around and acting and voting against that what you claim to believe in. What would be disappointing is if Davis and Benton are elected again saying they are Progressives Democrats when in fact they vote like conservative Republicans.
ART BUS PROJECT
City Councilors Benton and Davis voted repeatedly for the disastrous ART Bus project that has destroyed the character of Route 66. Both refused to advocate to put the ART Bus project on the ballot for public approval proclaiming it to be the Republican Mayor’s project that they agreed with. Benton and Davis voted to spend federal grant money on ART that had yet to be appropriated by congress. The ART Bus project has been a total disaster resulting the destruction of the character of Route 66. ART has a negative impact on Central resulting in several businesses going out of business. Many central businesses and Nob Hill businesses no longer exist because of the ART Bus Project.
What is just as pathetic is that Benton and Davis never demanded an economic impact study when it came to the ART Bus project and how it would affect businesses along the central corridor. Davis also does not recognize that his sick leave ordinance will have still another negative affect on all the Nob Hill businesses that were affected by ART and still struggling, assuming they have not already gone out of business because of ART.
INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE (IDO).
City Councilors Benton and Davis voted for the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). Before the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), there were sixty (60) sector development plans which governed new development in specific neighborhoods. Forty (40) of the development plans had their own “distinct zoning guidelines” that were designed to protect many historical areas of the city. Examples of areas of the city governed by long standing sector development plans that were repealed include Barelas, San Jose, Hunning Highland, Silver Hills, Nob Hill and Old Town. Historical overlay zones were also affected. The IDO favors developers and makes gentrification official city policy.
The IDO repealed many sector development plans designed to protect neighborhoods and it will have the most effect on both the City Council Districts Davis and Benton represent.
NEED FOR ECONOMIC ANALYSIS QUESTIONED
Now that the Bernalillo County Commission has enacted a sick leave ordinance our Dynamic Duo want to spend tax payer money on an economic analysis to determine how a similar paid sick leave ordinance would work in Albuquerque. Davis actually thinks the County Commission enacting their ordinance on a 3 to 2 vote somehow translates into momentum for the City Council to act. It does not.
Davis and Benton both now think an economic impact study on a sick leave ordinance will be of help when the Council’s version of a paid sick leave ordinance is finally brought up for approval. It is very likely that such an analysis has already been done by the private sector either by the coalition of businesses that opposed the Healthy Workforce ordinance or even by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
The Dynamic Duo’s economic analysis of the paid sick leave amounts to nothing more than a publicity stunt in an effort to shore up their sagging support within their progressive Democratic districts so they can say all the right things to get media attention and for progressive Democrats to hear.
KNOW THE OPPOSITION
A coalition of 27 businesses and business organizations was formed to oppose the Healthy Workforce ordinance in court and included:
• 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.
You can expect the same coalition to form to oppose any type of mandatory sick leave ordinance by the city and even going to court to stop it as they did with the Healthy Workforce ordinance.
There are legitimate arguments made in support and in opposition of a sick leave ordinance. Make no mistake, there is a definite need for sick leave legislation. A mandatory sick leave is an extension of increasing the minimum wage and is considered a step toward a living wage and for that reason it should be tied to the minimum wage by the New Mexico legislature.
It would make common sense for Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council to contact the coalition formed last year to oppose the Healthy Workforce ordinance and create a working group, get their input and recommendations on what they will support and draft an ordinance that will pass the city council that they will not oppose and resent. The working group should also include representatives of the county’s New Mexico delegation to Santa Fe to gauge if there is support to enact such a law state wide attached to the minimum wage.
Then again, common sense is something that has always historically been seriously lacking at city hall as has been real leadership and consensus building by Democrats that act and vote more like Republicans until its election time.