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City Council to consider another sick leave bill

A new paid sick leave ordinance providing 80 hours per employee and co-sponsored by City Councilors Isaac Benton and Lan Sena is geared to support workers during public health emergencies but also has a component for regular paid sick leave.

The bill has been put on the agenda for a holdover, “meaning it will not necessarily go to committee and may be heard by the full council,” Benton said, although he didn’t know when that might occur,

“This bill does address the pandemic and public health emergencies, but it also anticipates moving forward with an actual permanent policy,” Benton said. “For the regular sick leave portion, it’s similar to others that have been proposed.”

Measures to provide paid sick leave to workers in Albuquerque have been introduced a number of times in recent years but have stalled or been defeated. The Bernalillo County Commission passed a sick leave bill but is delaying its implementation during the COVID-19 crisis.

The current proposed city bill notes that under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers who have fewer than 500 employees are already required to provide paid sick leave benefits to employees who may not be able to work because of COVID-19. That act went into effect April 1 and remains in effect through Dec. 31.

But many workers still lack access to sick leave.

According to the bill, employees who are least likely to have the right to earn sick time are employed in the leisure and hospitality industries, those who work in private homes, such as people caring for the elderly and medically fragile, and people who work for companies with fewer than 10 employees.

“Now that we are in a public health crisis, it’s important to note that having these policies in place might have allowed us to be 100% open by now,” Sena said Tuesday. She said many who may have needed to stay home but had no paid sick leave felt they had no option but to report for work.

During public emergency situations, the bill would “level the playing field” between Albuquerque businesses that already provide earned sick leave and those that do not, and it would provide for damages and penalties when employers violate the ordinance.

In particular, the bill would provide for 80 hours of paid sick leave, enough for a two-week quarantine during a public health emergency, and generally more than regular paid sick leave provides.

Benton said the council could decide to separate the two portions of the bill. “But without question, the legislation illustrates the problem that the pandemic caused for a whole lot of our workers. On a permanent basis, they don’t have basic sick leave, and that becomes particularly concerning during a pandemic or a public health emergency.”

Also under the bill, beginning Jan. 1, 2021, workers would be able to use regular paid sick leave accrued through their employment. The bill outlines minimum standards for sick leave as well as penalties for violating the ordinance.

Rebecca Glenn, spokeswoman for OlĂ©, a community advocacy organization for workers’ rights, said, “We’ve been finding that not all our essential workers are getting federal sick pay leave, and if there were a city ordinance in place covering all public health emergencies … enforcement would be better.”

In 2018, City Councilor Pat Davis introduced a paid sick leave bill that languished without a hearing before a council committee. A 2017 ballot measure was narrowly defeated. Also in 2017, Councilors Don Harris and the late Ken Sanchez introduced a bill that would have applied only to businesses with at least 50 workers, but the bill was struck down in committee. The current legislation may not fare better, although Benton said he believes four to six of the nine city councilors support it.

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