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Critics call for City Council to slow down on ordinances related to COVID-19

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Some Albuquerque leaders think the City Council is moving too fast on a set of proposed ordinances intended to help workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council is scheduled to vote Monday on proposals that would provide certain workers extra hazard pay for every shift, require employers to allow up to 80 hours of sick leave for various ailments, including COVID-19, and require employers to provide masks to employees.

Sponsors have removed permanent paid sick leave mandates and are tackling only paid sick leave during the current public health emergency. And they have proposed an amendment to the hazard pay ordinance that would lower the maximum amount per shift from $75 to $25.

The City Council will also consider an ordinance that would require employers to provide masks to employees. There have been changes to allow businesses to require customers to also wear masks, Councilor Lan Sena said. Sponsors are pushing a substitute that would reduce the penalty from $500 to $200 per infraction.

The ordinances were introduced at a City Council meeting June 15.

Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce President Terri Cole is one of the critics.

“We can’t even present our comments in a public setting,” Cole told the Journal on Sunday. “We also have not had any public debate to speak of since these two ordinances were dropped on the business community.”

Cole said people in the business community will be submitting comments by email, as the rest of the public is urged to do in light of emergency health orders limiting public gatherings. The meeting will be held on Zoom and streamed on YouTube.

Sena, who is a sponsor of all three ordinances, said the council needs to move quickly on the proposals because they are aimed at providing assistance during the pandemic.

“These measures are to address the public health emergency,” Sena said Sunday. “A lot of the ordinances and resolutions that we voted on (in the last three months) have gone through that same rigor that these bills are going through.”

The premium pay ordinance would require essential workers who are paid $12 or less at companies with over 50 employees to receive up to $25 extra per shift. Previously, the proposed ordinance called for employees who are paid $15 or less to receive up to an extra $75 a shift.

The sick leave ordinance is similar to the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allows for 80 hours of sick leave, but Sena said the proposed city ordinance would also cover health care workers and workers at businesses with more than 500 employees.

If the sick leave ordinance is passed, Sena said, it would expire in December, along with the federal act.

On Wednesday, Councilors Don Harris, Brook Bassan and Trudy Jones sent a memo to City Council President Pat Davis asking for an economic impact study on the premium pay and sick leave ordinances, as well as a fiscal impact study on the sick leave ordinance.

Requesting such studies usually delays a vote, Harris said. But he said Sunday that he has not received a response to the memo. Harris also believes the council is moving too fast on the legislation.

“This is not a narrowly tailored effort to solve an Albuquerque problem,” Harris said in a text message. “This is an effort by some Councilors to rush through legislation to advance some national progressive agenda.”

Sena said she would not consider postponing the votes Monday to conduct studies because studies on a sick leave ordinance have been done in the past and because the ordinances need to be passed quickly to address public health.

“I think it’s time to step up, especially now, as we’re facing an unprecedented infectious disease, to address the issue,” Sena said.

Mayor Tim Keller declined to take a position on the paid sick leave or premium pay ordinances when asked Thursday, saying it was “premature to comment,” because amendments were likely and he did not know what, if anything, the council would pass.

“I would say this: At some point we do need to have some closure on the sick leave question,” Keller said during a media briefing at City Hall. “It’s been around – it was on the ballot, it lost by just a few votes – so our city does need to address that in general. We also need to address emergency situations with our workforce.

“But on these specifics, really this is going to come down to whatever gets to my desk (after a council vote).”

Anyone wishing to participate in the meeting can submit comments at https://www.cabq.gov/council/find-your-councilor/comments-june-29-2020-council-special-meeting

Comments must be received by 2 p.m. Monday to be considered.

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