Lawsuit targets proposed sick leave ordinance

The Association of Commerce and Industry and two trade associations filed a lawsuit in state District Court on Monday seeking to have Albuquerque’s proposed sick leave ordinance invalidated.

The lawsuit alleges that the proposed Healthy Workforce Ordinance is “a form of voter fraud” known as logrolling because it lumps 14 different issues as one.

“It’s an unconstitutional ordinance,” said Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers, the attorney representing ACI, the New Mexico Restaurant Association and NAIOP, an organization that represents commercial real estate developers. The lawsuit also asks a judge to declare the 2012 amendments to the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance unenforceable, alleging logrolling in that measure as well.

The proposed sick time ordinance would require employers in Albuquerque, regardless of size, to allow their workers to earn paid sick time off. It would apply to full-time, part-time and temporary workers at any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque.

Barring intervention from a judge, the proposed ordinance is expected to appear on the Oct. 3 municipal ballot.

Actively fighting the ordinance is the Albuquerque Coalition for a Healthy Economy, a group of 26 business and trade organizations, including the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, who argue that the ordinance would hurt Albuquerque businesses because of increased costs and onerous record-keeping requirements.

The lawsuit names the city of Albuquerque, the City Council and all nine city councilors as defendants.

“This proposal was not a Berry administration, or city, initiative,” the city’s legal department said in a statement. “It was interest group initiated as allowed by the City Charter. The city will take whatever action the court orders in this case.”

Tim Davis, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said his group will file a motion to intervene in the case.

“We think it doesn’t have any merit,” he said of the lawsuit. “The logrolling prohibitions don’t apply to the city of Albuquerque, and even if they did, this ordinance isn’t logrolling; every part of the ordinance pertains to sick paid leave for the workers of Albuquerque.”

As for the challenge to the minimum wage ordinance, Davis said that election took place four years ago. He said any challenge had to have been filed within 30 days of those election results being finalized.

Supporters of the sick leave ordinance include OLÉ New Mexico, the SouthWest Organizing Project, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos. They gathered enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot. Supporters argue that the ordinance would ensure that workers don’t have to choose between their paycheck and caring for themselves or a loved one.

Rogers said that if the ordinance is enacted, “it will be the most expensive and expansive in the nation.”

“It will be a job killer and a great incentive for people to leave Albuquerque and New Mexico,” he said.

The minimum wage ordinance was approved by city voters in 2012, increasing Albuquerque’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour and tieing future increases to the consumer price index. It also set forth a minimum wage for tipped employees.

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