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ABQ sick leave plan gets mixed reviews

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The proposed sick leave ordinance introduced during Monday’s City Council meeting is getting mixed reactions, with the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce supporting the measure and worker rights groups saying it would be the worst sick leave law in the nation.

“This is incredibly more business friendly than the prior one,” Sherman McCorkle, chairman of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce’s Bold Issues Group, told the Journal.

“Something is going to move forward. We know that. The new mayor said that. The council has said that,” McCorkle said. “… This is much more fair and is something that the (chamber) board would look very favorably on.”

But Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and one of the individuals who fought for the narrowly defeated sick leave ballot initiative, told the council on Monday that the proposed ordinance is too weak. She said 28 other cities and nine states have paid sick leave laws.

“If passed, this truly would be the worst sick leave legislation in the country,” Wagoner said. “It excludes many part time workers, most of whom want full time jobs or work multiple jobs to make ends meet. It excludes between 90 to 95 percent of Albuquerque businesses from coverage altogether. And it denies coverage for many important family care giving relationships.”

The proposed ordinance — sponsored by Council President Ken Sanchez, a Democrat, and Councilor Don Harris, a Republican — would require employers with 50 or more workers to provide them with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year. The ordinance would cover individuals who work an average of at least 20 hours a week, but not temporary workers.

Sanchez and Harris have said the ordinance they introduced is a starting point and that they hope to work with the business community and worker rights groups to come up with an ordinance that protects workers and the economy.

Voters in October narrowly rejected a sick leave ballot initiative that many Albuquerque business owners and groups warned would impose onerous regulations and hurt the local economy. The so-called Healthy Workforce Ordinance was defeated by fewer than 800 votes.

Wagoner said one of the problems with the new ordinance that has been introduced is that those who get sick leave would only be able to use it for themselves, or to care for their child or spouse.

“So, if your mother or grandmother falls and breaks her hip, you can’t take sick time under this ordinance to care for her,” Wagoner said. “Nieces, siblings, grandchildren, domestic partners and many other important family care giving relationships aren’t covered by this draft ordinance.”

She added that the proposed law has the lowest sick time accrual rate in the country and one of the longest wait periods to be able to actually use sick leave. Wagoner offered to help the city come up with a better ordinance.

“Better models are out there,” she said. “Albuquerque families deserve something better than last place.”

Wagoner was one of several people who spoke about the ordinance during the Council meeting.

Traeshaun Buffin, a full-time Central New Mexico Community College student, part-time worker and member of OLÉ, told councilors he is only able to work 15 hours a week and wouldn’t be covered under the proposed ordinance.

“Like the people that are covered with the proposed ordinance, we, too, get sick, and we all deserve the right to be able to earn the time off to be able to take care of ourselves and loved ones when we are not feeling well,” he said.

Others suggested the council shouldn’t move forward on sick leave.

“Nobody likes it,” Paul Ryan McKenney said. “Actual liberty minded folks and conservatives don’t like it. Progressives don’t like it. Nobody likes it. Your corporate bodies are the only ones that like it.”

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