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Sick leave supporters to continue their fight

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A day after Albuquerque voters defeated a proposed sick leave ordinance by a razor-thin margin, those pushing for the measure vowed to continue their fight while opponents were breathing a sigh of relief and realizing that had they not fought the proposal at every turn, there could have been a much different result.

Pat Rogers

The ordinance was defeated by 718 votes, or 0.78 percentage point, according to unofficial results. But more than 6,000 voters who cast ballots skipped the proposed Healthy Workforce Ordinance.

People on both sides were stunned by Tuesday’s results, realizing how rare an outcome it was, including Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque attorney and one of the leading opponents of the ordinance.

“Forty-one times now, unions have been successful, whether with the vote or in the legislature,” Rogers said, referring to sick leave ordinances that have been enacted throughout the country in recent years. “Two times they’ve failed – Denver and Albuquerque – and we didn’t have the money they did. They outspent us. It’s not something that was foreseeable, and I think it’s big.”

But those who worked to get the ordinance on the ballot and who have spent months campaigning for the measure – which included knocking on 90,000 doors and 36,000 phone conversations – aren’t giving up.

Healthy Workforce ABQ, the coalition that pushed for the ordinance, issued a news release Wednesday vowing to continue its fight to ensure that all workers have access to earned paid sick leave.

“I think that ultimately, when it comes right down to it, there are still 107,000 workers who don’t have paid sick leave today,” Andrea Serrano, executive director of OLÉ, told the Journal. “That is not acceptable, and that is what we have to move forward to work for.”

She said she’s encouraged that many of the elected officials, business owners and groups that came out against the ordinance said that they support sick leave, just not the one that was proposed.

“I think that all sides agree that paid sick leave is extremely important and that it’s sorely needed in this city,” Serrano said. “I think that’s the conversation that has to keep happening, and that’s what we look forward to. We look forward to continuing the conversation even with people who opposed this particular ordinance.”

The Healthy Workforce Ordinance would have required any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque – regardless of size – to provide paid sick time off for full-time, part-time and temporary workers. Those who pushed for the measure said it would have ensured that workers wouldn’t have had to choose between receiving their paychecks and caring for themselves or a loved one. Opponents argued that the ordinance would have hurt Albuquerque businesses and killed jobs because of increased costs and onerous record-keeping and other requirements.

A Journal Poll conducted Sept. 11-14 showed 53 percent of likely voters supporting the ordinance. But a Journal Poll conducted two weeks later showed that the race had narrowed substantially, with support for the measure falling.

6,035 blank ballots

Many people who closely followed the election returns on the sick leave measure are talking about the fact that 6,035 people who cast ballots didn’t vote for or against the Healthy Workforce Ordinance.

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said it’s not unusual for voters to skip over items toward the end of a long ballot. But he said there may have been other factors.

The ordinance is about 1,900 words, and the English and Spanish versions took up the entire back of the ballot.

“We have a complex issue with lots of words and a very small font, and some people may have felt that they just didn’t have enough knowledge or information (to vote on it),” Sanderoff said. “… People were barraged with a lot of bold statements both in favor of it and opposing this ordinance. It’s only natural that some people did not feel they had sufficient information to make an informed decision. … Others may have passed because of the sheer complexity. There could have been some people who didn’t notice the back of the ballot. I think all of these factors contributed to the falloff.”

The city opted not to place a proposed summary of the ordinance on the ballot after Mayor Richard Berry vetoed the first election resolution, saying that the summary put forth by backers of the ordinance was misleading. Those pushing for the ordinance went to court to try to force the city to put the summary on the ballot, but they lost that battle.

Sanderoff also noted that several of the fliers opponents sent out on the ordinance emphasized the length of the measure and linked that to trickery or potential deceptiveness.

“That kind of message may have resonated with enough voters,” he said.

Aggressive campaign

Opponents of the sick leave measure fought it at every turn, going before the City Council to claim it would hurt the economy, waging several legal battles against it and launching a media campaign. Among those leading the fight were the Association of Commerce and Industry, the New Mexico Restaurant Association and NAIOP, an organization that represents commercial real estate developers.

“When it’s razor-thin like this, there are a whole bunch of people that can and should claim they were the tipping point,” Rogers said.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, was among the opponents speaking out against the measure.

“This was a deceptive, feel-good ordinance that would have hurt Albuquerque workers, businesses and the economy,” she said in a statement. “Several weeks ago, this job-killing ordinance was poised to pass by a double-digit margin. But businesses large and small came together, and the chamber ran an aggressive campaign over a short period to educate and warn voters of the dire consequences. Voters defeated a measure that would have threatened Albuquerque’s economy.”

Burly Cain, state director of Americans for Prosperity-New Mexico, also issued a statement calling the result a “great win for Albuquerque small businesses and workers.”

“The worst sick leave ordinance in the country died a well-deserved death last night,” he said. Also weighing in was the Albuquerque Coalition for a Healthy Economy, which thanked voters for defeating the measure.

Serrano said the ordinance faced great odds.

“Well-connected business interests undertook a campaign of misinformation that confused both the press and voters about the provisions of the law,” she said. “The measure was relegated to the back of the ballot, without a summary, in illegible seven-point font that many people could not read. This election doesn’t change the fact that everyone agrees Albuquerque workers should have the basic right to earn sick leave. We will continue to fight for it.”

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