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Groups seek to intervene in sick leave lawsuit


City Councilor Pat Davis speaks in favor of a sick leave initiative that is to go before voters on Oct. 3, unless a judge intervenes. (Martin Salazar/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two worker rights groups and an Albuquerque voter are asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed in April that seeks to keep Albuquerque’s proposed sick leave ordinance off the ballot.

OLÉ, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos and Rebecca Glenn, all proponents of the ballot initiative, filed motions in state District Court in Albuquerque Thursday seeking to intervene in the case and asking a court to throw out the lawsuit. They contend the suit is without merit.

“We want to prosper and thrive in our communities and have our work respected and honored,” Alicia Saenz, a custodial worker and member of El Centro, said through an interpreter during a news conference in front of the courthouse on Thursday afternoon. “We ask all folks in Albuquerque to unite with us and say no to the greed of these businesses and the associations and say yes to workers.”

The lawsuit was initially filed by the Association of Commerce and Industry, the New Mexico Restaurant Association and NAIOP, which represents commercial real estate developers.

Attorney Pat Rogers, representing the plaintiffs, filed an amended complaint on Thursday that adds Kaufman Fire Protection Services and Don Kaufman as plaintiffs. It also drops individual city councilors as defendants and adds City Clerk Natalie Howard as a defendant. Other defendants are the city of Albuquerque and the City Council.

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

The lawsuit also asks a judge to declare unenforceable the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance that voters approved in 2012, alleging logrolling in that measure as well. The current minimum wage is set at $8.80 an hour.

The lawsuit also alleges that home rule municipalities do not have the power to enact voter-initiated legislation.

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

If approved by voters, it would require employers to allow 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.

Opponents argue the ordinance would hurt businesses because of higher costs and record-keeping requirements.

“Albuquerque and New Mexico can’t afford the sick leave ordinance,” Rogers told the Journal on Thursday. “It’s the most extreme, and expensive version in the United States.”

Tim Davis, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said thousands of voters signed the petition to get the sick leave question on the ballot. He added that if the plaintiffs were to succeed in blocking the minimum wage ordinance, Albuquerque’s minimum wage would drop to the state minimum $7.50, and those workers would lose about $2,700 a year.

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