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Commissioners seeking changes to new paid leave ordinance

Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Just weeks after the Bernalillo County Commission passed a vigorously debated paid leave ordinance, elected officials are already angling to make a significant change.

Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada and Charlene Pyskoty want to amend the ordinance to create different standards based on a business’ size – specifically reducing the requirements for those with fewer employees.

The ordinance as approved Aug. 20 would take effect July 1, 2020, and mandate businesses offer their workers at least one hour of paid leave for every 32 hours worked. A gradual implementation schedule entitles workers to earn 24 hours of paid time off in the first year, 40 hours in 2021 and 56 hours each subsequent year.

It would apply to all businesses in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County that have at least two employees.

Several business associations fought the paid leave mandate and the commission made some changes promoted by industry groups prior to passage.

The commission did not, however, exempt small businesses, as some critics requested, although Pyskoty had proposed a tiered system that permitted employers with smaller staffs to provide less leave.

But Pyskoty’s proposal failed in a dramatic 3-2 vote, with Quezada waiting several seconds before casting the decisive vote against it.

Quezada said Monday he subsequently reconsidered the idea, having done additional research and talked to more constituents, including small-business owners.

He and Pyskoty are introducing a similar amendment Tuesday night.

Quezada said other jurisdictions, such as the city of Albuquerque, may follow the county’s paid leave lead and it was especially important to “get it right.”

“We don’t want to put people out of business,” he said. “We do think people earn paid time off and work hard for somebody, but sometimes for these smaller businesses and microbusinesses, it’s going to be hard to get to seven days leave” for every employee.

The duo’s amendment would continue the ordinance’s phased-in implementation, but it would raise the first-year standard to 28 hours per employee and the second-year standard to 44 hours. It would keep the final at 56 hours, but not all companies would have to go that high.

Companies with 2-10 employees could stay at the 28-hour level and those with 11-34 employees could remain at the 44-hour level.

Only those with 35 or more workers would have to offer 56 hours to each worker in 2022 and beyond.

Pyskoty said she is trying to protect the small businesses in her district, while ensuring that all workers receive some benefit. She called it a “workable compromise.”

“There are no big box stores in my district that would be affected by this. The affected businesses are often little shops, literally on dirt roads, trying to do the right thing and make a go of it,” Pyskoty said in an email.

Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins, who co-sponsored the paid leave ordinance, said before last month’s vote that she objected to different standards based on a business’ staffing levels, saying she wanted consistency and that workers “have needs” regardless of their employer’s size.

She said Monday her position has not changed.