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ABQ needs to step up, protect workers with sick leave

Thank goodness our local governments are doing everything they can to support local businesses right now. But what are they doing to support workers? Nothing.

Or in the case of the Bernalillo County Commission, worse than nothing. After passing one of the weakest paid sick leave ordinances in the country last year, the county announced that it had decided – without any public discussion – to delay the ordinance’s July 1 start date. After workers reacted with outrage, commissioners said they would discuss the decision on June 30. Does that mean they may vote to reverse the delay? Likely they will not.

As COVID-19 has ripped through New Mexico this year, the county responded by delaying the one ordinance that could protect workers and the public by reducing the spread of infection.

That’s why workers are counting on the Albuquerque City Council to pass Councilors’ Lan Sena’s and Isaac Benton’s paid sick leave ordinance this month. We hear stories every week about the urgent need for this bill.

Workers have told us about a commercial kitchen in Albuquerque that pressed employees to keep its operation in full swing even after workers tested positive for COVID-19. Some of you reading this piece may have been exposed from the food you ordered from there.

Recently, two workers who tested positive for COVID-19 while working for a small employer in Albuquerque said they were told to take the weekend to recover and return to work on Monday. Some of you will be exposed to COVID-19 or other infectious diseases by similarly reckless employers.

Employers are endangering workers’ and customers’ lives, and their employees know that if they go public with these stories, they’ll get fired. That’s why we need robust sick leave now for every employee in Albuquerque. If Albuquerque can’t guarantee paid sick leave for all workers, we should keep businesses closed.

Texas and Arizona broke their single-day records for COVID-19 infections last week. And then broke them again. Taking a page from President Donald Trump, Bernalillo County is doing everything it can to support businesses while treating the lives of the workers they represent as expendable.

Why is the county so reckless? Some say the reason is that the 100,000 employees in Albuquerque without access to paid sick leave are primarily people of color so they can afford to be sacrificed.

Restaurant and grocery store employees, child care center teachers and delivery drivers, pharmacists and medical workers have kept New Mexico running through this crisis. Bernalillo County is thanking them by preserving the racist structures that have led to more deaths from COVID among communities of color than white communities.

Will the Albuquerque City Council vote today against the proposed sick leave ordinance or pass a version that offers little protection as the county did? Will it vote to preserve a system built on the white supremacist notion that Black, indigenous and people of color who risk their lives every day when they go to work are expendable and easily replaced? Tell that to the family members who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, and they will tell you their lives are irreplaceable.

Sick workers without paid sick days keep working. That’s what business wants.

And communities that are hardest hit by disease always lag behind in accruing wealth and political power. That’s what business wants.

And what business wants is what the county wants. We call on the Albuquerque City Council to act on behalf of workers, as the County Commission has recklessly refused to do.

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