August 8, 2018

Expand paid sick leave in Albuquerque

Courtesy Photo

Franklin Gauna

I’m one of the lucky ones.

I work for Albuquerque Public Schools and I can take paid time off when I’m sick, need to go to the doctor or to care for a loved one.

When my aunt was sick a few years ago, I took time off to be with her. I could pay my bills and pay my respects to an important woman in my life. Paid sick leave let me be by my aunt’s side to care for her, instead of being at work trying to focus on my job while I was really worrying about her.

My mom’s health is good, thankfully. But she’s getting older and she needs some extra help. It’s a comfort to both of us that I can take time off to take her to the doctor and not be afraid of losing my job or missing out on needed income.

Not everyone is so lucky.

In fact, members of my own family don’t have access to paid sick leave like I do. What’s more, even if they do have access to paid leave, restrictive definitions of “family” in the policies prevent them from using that time off to care for some of their loved ones.

As a transgender man, I know all too well that the definitions that society establishes don’t work for everyone. Indeed, my family is more than just my mom or my aunt; it’s the friends I grew up with in the Northeast Heights—and it’s the friends that I’ve made as an adult. We don’t look like the traditional nuclear family, but then, these days, who does?

Nationally, 80 percent of families don’t fit that mold—mom, dad, 2.5 kids. And Albuquerque reflects the national data. Think of your own family or your neighbor’s. Nuclear families are no longer the norm—if they ever really were.

That’s why, even as I’m excited to see the Albuquerque City Council take action to provide paid sick leave to all workers, I’m concerned that the proposed ordinance too narrowly defines family.

Under the guidelines proposed by Councilors Ken Sanchez and Don Harris, I wouldn’t have been able to take leave to care for my aunt. That’s not OK.

As the City Council and Mayor Tim Keller consider providing all workers with paid sick leave, I urge them to also consider what Albuquerque families really look like. The ordinance must include language that defines family as based on blood or affinity—not based on an outdated storybook. From domestic partnerships to multi-generational families and from LGBTQ families to adult siblings living on their own, family is family. It takes on all different shapes and sizes, but, at the end of the day, it represents one thing: Love.

I know that I’m lucky, both in terms of my employer’s generous leave policies and in terms of the tight-knit family I share my life with.

But that’s not enough. In New Mexico, in Albuquerque, in my community, we value family. Luck should not decide whether someone can take leave or not. Instead, we need sound policies that reflect the realities of our families. I urge the City Council and the Mayor to enact policies that include a broad, realistic definition of family. Think how lucky we’d all be then.

Franklin Gauna is a community activist from Albuquerque.