Spe­cial in­ter­ests and lawyers will be the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this poorly crafted mea­sure

Albuquerque Journal - - OP-ED - BY TERRI COLE PRES­I­DENT AND CEO, GREATER AL­BU­QUERQUE CHAM­BER OF COM­MERCE

Warn­ing! A nearly 2,000-word pro­posal on the back of this year’s elec­tion bal­lot claims to be pro-worker, but it will lead to Al­bu­querque work­ers los­ing their jobs and los­ing key ben­e­fits, like paid time off. There is no ques­tion that the pas­sage of this con­fus­ing, poorly crafted bal­lot ini­tia­tive will lead to lo­cal small busi­nesses in Al­bu­querque shut­ting their doors for good.

Let’s fol­low the lead of cities like Den­ver in vot­ing down this so-called sick leave or­di­nance, which is lit­tered with oner­ous reg­u­la­tions and red tape that would stran­gle our small busi­nesses, make lawyers rich off of friv­o­lous law­suits, and hurt Al­bu­querque fam­i­lies as work­ers are laid off and lose their ben­e­fits.

First, the me­an­der­ing bal­lot ini­tia­tive ap­plies to small busi­nesses with as few as one em­ployee. These busi­nesses barely make ends meet, and ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tions will surely im­pact their sur­vival in our com­mu­nity.

Se­cond, the pro­posal doesn’t al­low a small busi­ness to ask for doc­u­men­ta­tion, like a doc­tor’s note, from an em­ployee who takes sick leave un­less that em­ployee is gone from work for three or more con­sec­u­tive days. If a small busi­ness does ask for doc­u­men­ta­tion, it must pay for the em­ployee’s doc­tor’s visit.

Third, and per­haps worst, a pro­vi­sion in the bal­lot ini­tia­tive called “re­but­table pre­sump­tion” says that if an em­ployer ter­mi­nates an em­ployee within 90 days of that em­ployee us­ing sick leave, it is as­sumed that the ter­mi­na­tion was in re­tal­i­a­tion for the em­ployee’s us­ing their sick leave. This is an ab­surd de­ter­mi­na­tion de­signed to make trial lawyers rich. The way it’s drafted could lead to some ridicu­lous ar­gu­ments against em­ploy­ers. For ex­am­ple, a worker who takes a sin­gle day of sick leave could be com­pletely im­mune from ter­mi­na­tion, even if they fail a drug test while on the job. That makes no sense, but it’s a slop­pily writ­ten pro­vi­sion that’s buried within the nearly 2,000 words on the back side of the bal­lot.

When lo­cal small busi­nesses are forced to bear the in­creased cost of this shady or­di­nance, they will have no choice but to cut costs. Busi­nesses will lay off work­ers, cut work­ers’ hours, or pass the in­creased costs on to their cus­tomers in the form of higher prices at restau­rants and stores across town. In other words, this pro­posal is a bai­tand-switch that would hurt the very peo­ple it pur­ports to help.

Many em­ploy­ees across Al­bu­querque cur­rently en­joy some sort of paid time off ben­e­fits, or “PTO” as it is more com­monly known. Un­der this bal­lot ini­tia­tive, PTO is likely to dis­ap­pear al­to­gether. It’s hard to ar­gue that oblit­er­at­ing paid time off is “proworker” in any sense.

If this or­di­nance is en­acted, trial lawyers will be en­cour­aged to file law­suit af­ter law­suit against Al­bu­querque small busi­nesses, most of which don’t have the money to de­fend them­selves against ag­gres­sive at­tor­neys.

Why are trial lawyers so at­tracted to this pro­posal? Be­cause if a lawyer sues a small busi­ness, he or she can re­ceive da­m­ages up to three times the amount of ac­tual da­m­ages they al­lege to have oc­curred. But if the small busi­ness wins the law­suit, it re­ceives noth­ing but a bill for the cost of hav­ing to de­fend it­self against friv­o­lous claims. This sneaky bal­lot pro­posal even of­fers in­cen­tives to city gov­ern­ment at­tor­neys to tar­get small busi­nesses with au­dits and in­ves­ti­ga­tions in an ef­fort to col­lect fines when­ever a small busi­ness hasn’t dot­ted the i’s or crossed the t’s in the moun­tain of pa­per­work re­quired.

We be­lieve that en­act­ing a city­wide pol­icy to en­cour­age busi­nesses to pro­vide their em­ploy­ees with sick leave is a laud­able goal. But it’s wrong to have an out-of-state spe­cial in­ter­est group draft a so-called sick leave pol­icy in se­cret and try to en­act it through a con­fus­ing bal­lot ini­tia­tive. In­stead, we should bring ev­ery­one to the ta­ble — in­clud­ing the pub­lic and job-cre­at­ing small busi­nesses — to draft a rea­son­able or­di­nance not rid­dled with un­in­tended con­se­quences. Un­for­tu­nately, the nearly 2,000 words on the back of your bal­lot will do noth­ing but push jobs out of our city and put small busi­nesses out of busi­ness, all while rais­ing costs on Al­bu­querque fam­i­lies.

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