Community advocates celebrate Bernalillo County Sick Leave Ordinance but call for improvements

ALBUQUERQUE—Worker and community organizations support the Bernalillo County ordinance that gives employees paid time off for health, family, and domestic violence related issues, but call for improvements so it helps more working people.   

“We are disappointed that the ordinance was watered down, but we still believe this is a victory for Bernalillo County’s working families. Everyone needs paid time off when they are sick, and this law makes that a reality for more people,” said Zeke Sanchez-Taylor with OLÉ.

In a questionable political maneuver, after Bernalillo County Commissioners passed the ordinance on August 20, business lobbyists began pressuring commissioners to weaken it. 

In response, Commissioners Pyskoty and Quezada introduced an amendment to limit its coverage. It requires businesses with two to ten employees provide only 28 hours of leave. Businesses of this size represent 80% of businesses in the county. The same amendment requires larger businesses provide between 44 and 56 hours of leave annually depending on their size.

In addition, Commissioner O’Malley introduced amendments to have the ordinance go into effect in January instead of July and to remove the 90 day delay for workers to accrue paid time. Commissioner Quezada also introduced an amendment that would increase the penalty to employers who retaliate against their workers.

All amendments passed.

Workers and community advocates called on commissioners to stick with the original ordinance passed through an open democratic process. The original ordinance guaranteed 56 hours of paid time off to workers at businesses with at least two employees in unincorporated areas of the county. Workers would accrue one hour of paid time off for every 32 hours they work.  

“Workers are the cornerstone of our local economy, and we are proud of their contributions,” said Olga Santana with El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “We urge the Bernalillo County Commissioners to do what is best for working families in the future.”

“After several open, deliberative, and fair hearings, the Bernalillo County Commission passed a compromise paid time off ordinance,” said Eric Griego with New Mexico Working Families Party. “This amended ordinance is much weaker, but we hope to work with current and future commissioners to improve its coverage and enforcement.”

“Providing only 28 hours of earned paid time off for 80% of businesses in the county severely underestimates the real needs of workers experiencing real health or personal challenges like extended illnesses or addressing domestic violence,” said Stephanie Welch with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.  “Twenty-eight hours of leave per year to take care of yourself, family or loved ones is simply not enough for most employees. It should be increased in the future.”

Background

The Chair of the Bernalillo County Commission, Maggie Hart-Stebbins, introduced the original earned sick leave ordinance on May 14, 2019. After consulting with business and community groups, she introduced a compromise earned paid time off ordinance on June 25 that incorporated several of their suggestions. 

At the August 20 commission meeting, several additional amendments requested by business groups were made, including phasing in the ordinance over three years, delaying the start date until July 2020, reducing the penalties for non-compliance, and extending the time for county officials to investigate and exhaust remedies before an employee would be eligible to bring a complaint before the district court. 

At that same meeting, Commissioner Pyskoty introduced an amendment that would have severely limited the ordinance’s coverage. The majority of the Commission rejected the Pyskoty amendment. The ordinance passed with a three to two majority, with Commissioners Hart-Stebbins, O’Malley, and Quezada voting in favor. 

Bernalillo County passes paid time off law!

By Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney for Workers’ Rights 

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners passed a new law on Tuesday that ensures hardworking people don’t have to choose between a paycheck and taking time off to care for themselves or a loved one.

Unfortunately, most workers making low wages have no paid sick leave. If they or a family member become ill, they have to choose between getting paid and getting better. Those who can least afford to lose any income are the most likely to have to face that choice. 

Starting next July, people working in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County will have the right to 24 hours of paid leave a year. The number of hours of leave will increase each year until it reaches 56 in 2022. The ordinance is clear, simple, and easy to implement. It is the result of years of advocacy by workers, parents, survivors of domestic violence, medical professionals, teachers, and caregivers.

Unfortunately the ordinance doesn’t address the great need for paid sick leave in the City of Albuquerque. 35% of workers in Albuquerque lack access to paid sick leave.

That is about 106,000 people who work and live in Albuquerque and who cannot take time off to get medical care, heal, escape an abusive situation, or care for a loved one without losing much-needed income and risking being fired.

This is not just a local problem, it’s a statewide problem. New Mexico has the highest percentage among U.S. states of workers without access to paid sick leave. Thankfully Bernalillo County officials are trying to do something about it. Now the city, and the state, should follow their lead.