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Editorial: Fair Workweek Act has little that’s fair or works

How would City Councilors Isaac Benton and Klarissa Peña’s strangely named “Fair Workweek Act” actually, well, work? And to whom, exactly, would it be fair? As written, the 19-page proposed ordinance would require employers to:

• Post schedules in writing at least three weeks in advance for full- and part-time, seasonal and temporary employees.

• Hold a secret-ballot vote for employees to adopt an alternative schedule, such as four 10-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts.

• Offer additional work to existing employees before hiring any new ones.

• Allow employees to swap shifts at will.

• Pay idle employees $150 every two weeks to keep them on the payroll when there’s no work.

• Allow employees to accrue up to 56 hours of sick time a year.

And it would all be enforced by “the city.”

It is laudable that Benton says the councilors want to start a dialogue about workplace practices, particularly paid sick time for employees who work a minimum number of hours. And it’s a nice idea to help hard-working folks juggling part-time jobs make ends meet – though sometimes that means not spending the time they would like to with their families or friends.

But making it harder to hire and employ people, and creating financial disincentives to keeping them on staff, is a really misguided way to go about it.

It sounds good in theory, to know who’s covering which shift for the next 21 days so working folks can schedule their busy non-work lives. Heck, it’s nice to plan for anything from church to a movie premiere. But what happens when someone else at work doesn’t show up? Calls in sick? Quits? Who keeps the business going? Who staffs hospital floors or provides myriad other essential services? And how helpful, as well as realistic, is it to nail down a three-week schedule when all those what-ifs can – and do – happen?

Ditto for alternative shifts. If it makes more sense in terms of continuity of patient care to have medical workers do three 12s, or is more cost-effective to have an office staff do four 10s, why does that hinge on a secret vote by employees?

And while it also sounds good in theory to give eager existing employees more hours, what about employers who have a part-time workforce by design, who employ primarily high school and college students? Why would the city tell them they can’t add jobs serving pizza or sitting in the lifeguard chair? And why create an impetus for an employer to dump extra work on existing employees rather than increasing staff?

Not to mention the fact that a business is born from the owner’s investment, often times life savings, and sweat. It’s not the government’s to run. Why should Peña and Benton, in effect, be allowed to dictate who a private businessperson can and can’t hire?

Is the bizarre goal to reduce the number of working people? If so, this gets it done.

As for allowing employees to swap shifts at will, employees and their skill sets aren’t always interchangeable. And while every contractor and subcontractor strives to keep dead times from happening, requiring a business to pay someone when there isn’t any work will simply be addressed with a raft of pink slips.

Of course there are bad actors in the employer arena, as there are in all. But it’s not as though the workplace is unregulated. There are state laws. And federal laws, labor laws, wage and hour laws, environmental rules, OSHA and more.

If the real goal of the Fair Workweek Act is concern over some required paid sick time for employees, that is a topic worthy of an informed discussion about the benefits to employees and employers alike.

Unfortunately, most of the ordinance is a manifesto that would have cheered the hearts of the Castro brothers – before even they concluded an economy micromanaged by government just isn’t viable.

If this vision became reality, it would be the intended beneficiaries who would be hurt the most.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.