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Fair Workweek Act may take petition track

BERRY: Promised he'd veto measure

BERRY: Promised he’d veto measure

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

The bill is dead, but not the debate.

The sponsors of the proposed Fair Workweek Act – a measure that ignited opposition from business groups – say they plan to withdraw the legislation at the next City Council meeting.

The move comes after Mayor Richard Berry pledged to veto the bill if it ever made it to his desk. He had called the ordinance “an impossible burden on small businesses” that would hurt both employers and workers.

Private advocacy groups, meanwhile, said Thursday that they will pursue the Fair Workweek Act through a petition drive, with the goal of getting the ordinance before voters in the 2016 general election. They will have to gather roughly 14,000 signatures to secure a spot on the ballot.

“This is something we see a majority of people in Albuquerque supporting,” said Andrea Serrano, deputy director of OLÉ, a group that helped write the legislation. “Albuquerque is full of people who want to see their neighbors thriving.”

She said the bill couldn’t get a fair hearing once Berry, a Republican, had promised to veto it if it was passed by the council.

The proposed ordinance would have required employers to set work schedules three weeks in advance, pay employees for unexpected changes in their schedules and provide paid sick leave. It also called for employers to pay their workers $150 in retention pay every two weeks when there wasn’t work, with certain exceptions.

Councilors Isaac Benton and Klarissa Peña, both Democrats, sponsored the proposal. They haven’t ruled out the possibility of introducing a similar bill in the future, perhaps by focusing on sick leave for employees.

But Benton said he didn’t expect to propose new legislation soon. He and Peña said they had been making revisions to the bill to address some of the criticism from business groups.

“Frankly, the level of rhetoric and so forth against it would preclude a solid conversation,” Benton said Thursday.

In a written statement, he and Peña also said they’re still committed to helping workers.

“We believe the essential provisions of the act are fair and commonsense policies that address real-world problems facing the hundreds of thousands of working people in Albuquerque,” they said. “We also understand, as some apparently do not, that the legislative process is one in which a bill like this is revised and improved based on comments and suggestions from all stakeholders.”

A spokesman for the mayor said the councilors didn’t reach out to Berry to discuss the changes they were working on. But if they had, the mayor would have been happy to meet with them to discuss the legislation, said Gilbert Montaño, chief of staff for Berry.

Opponents reacted forcefully when the bill was introduced in June. Even discussing the requirements, some said, harmed Albuquerque’s business environment.

“This is the worst piece of legislation put before the business community in the 34 years I’ve been at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce,” the group’s president and CEO, Terri Cole, told city councilors earlier this week.

Business groups called it rigid and costly on several fronts, adding that businesses need the flexibility of being able to change schedules. And they said the higher costs could lead to fewer jobs.

Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, called for withdrawing the bill last week. Councilor Don Harris, also a Republican, described the bill on Monday as “outrageous and frightening” to the business community.

Berry on Tuesday threatened to veto it.

The City Council as a whole will have to approve withdrawal of the bill, usually a routine procedure if a sponsor requests it.

The Fair Workweek Act will be on the council’s Aug. 17 agenda for withdrawal, according to the council’s staff. It’s on a section of the agenda reserved for routine items that don’t usually generate discussion, so the withdrawal won’t be debated unless a councilor specifically wants to bring it up.

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