October 4, 2017

Healthy Workforce Ordinance fails in razor-thin vote



If voters needed a reason to bring their reading glasses and a snack to the polls on Tuesday, it was probably because of the 1,900-word Healthy Workforce Ordinance, which filled the back side of the ballot.

As precincts reported results throughout the night, the results flip-flopped, but in the end, the initiative failed 50.39 percent to 49.61 percent. That was a margin of 718 votes out of over 91,000 cast.

In short, the ordinance said employers in the City of Albuquerque would need to provide employees with paid sick time for their own or a family member’s illness, injury or medical care or for absences from work related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Attorney Pat Rogers, who represented the business coalition that sued to void the initiative, called Tuesday’s vote a “testament to the Albuquerque voter.”

“Voters actually read the ordinance and determined it was a very bad proposal for employees in particular, as well as employers,” he said. “I’m very proud of the Albuquerque voters who saw through the dishonest and fraudulent campaign of the union and OLÉ and Progress Now* and SWOP.” Rogers was referring to the Southwest Organizing Project and other organizations supporting the ordinance.

Proponents of the ordinance were disappointed, but said the larger coalition was about more than just the sick leave ordinance.

“Our larger coalition is about what kind of economic development we want, and what kind of community we want to live in,” said Eric Griego with the New Mexico Working Families Party. “The bigger issue for me is how do working families survive in this Albuquerque economy?”

Griego also criticized the “disinformation and outright lies” from opponents of the ordinance.

“It seems to me that the people who have been continuing to perpetuate this low-wage, low-benefit, low human capital model have a lot of explaining to do,” he said. “A lot of the policies they have pushed are the very policies that have led to a community that struggles with crime, struggles with poverty, struggles with addiction.”

The organizations fighting the paid sick leave ordinance, he said, also opposed raising the minimum wage in the city. “They don’t have an idea for how to build a strong community-based economy. It’s the same old, tired low-wage, low- benefit, race to the bottom.”

With just a few precincts left to report when NM Political Report spoke with him, Griego said that if it didn’t pass, proponents still had options for the future. “It doesn’t go away, we’ll try to work with the next mayor, or the next city council to do it legislatively.” And, he said, they can always put it to voters again in the future.

Had the ordinance passed, employees would have earned one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they’ve worked, and the ordinance would have set different standards for smaller companies than those with 40 or more employees. For example, larger companies would have been required to allow employees to use 56 hours of earned sick leave each year and smaller companies, 40 hours each year.

Companies with policies that already exceed the new requirements don’t have to stack sick time—or reduce benefits to employees. And companies that already allow employees to take paid time off without having to provide a reason, or allow employees to earn additional paid time off, wouldn’t be affected by the changes.

After petitioners submitted the requisite number of signatures to the city clerk to put the ordinance to voters, the Albuquerque city council voted to place it on the  November 2016 ballot.

The Bernalillo County Commission decided not to include the ordinance on that ballot, however. Proponents took the issue to court, but a Bernalillo County District judge said that the “county cannot be forced to include the proposed ordinance” and also ruled that the entire text of the ordinance appear on the ballot, rather than just a summary.

The ordinance was supported by a coalition of groups, including Strong Families New Mexico, OLÉ, Southwest Organizing Project, Center for Civic Policy, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos and New Mexico Working Families Party.

It was opposed by the Albuquerque Coalition for a Healthy Economy, which included more than 30 trade and business organizations ranging from Home Builders of Central New Mexico to the New Mexico Chile Association, New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides to the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Opponents also included the New Mexico Restaurant Association, Association of Commerce and Industry and the New Mexico Chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, which is still referred to as NAIOP, from an earlier iteration of its name, National Association for Industrial and Office Parks, as well as the national group Americans for Prosperity and the Rio Grande Foundation.

* ProgressNow New Mexico helps find funding for NM Political Report. No one at ProgressNow New Mexico has any editorial input on this or any other story at NM Political Report.