Albuquerque Journal

Sick leave not the point of measure

Initiative will transform relationsh­ip between businesses and employees

- BY PAUL J. GESSING PRESIDENT, RIO GRANDE FOUNDATION The Rio Grande Foundation is an independen­t, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educationa­l organizati­on dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, eco

In October, a “sick leave” measure will appear on voters’ ballots. While touted as nothing more than an effort to require businesses to offer their employees paid sick leave, the reality is that sick leave is only one of many issues addressed in the lengthy and complicate­d measure.

If passed, the ballot measure will fundamenta­lly transform the relationsh­ip between local businesses and their employees. Organizing for the Land of Enchantmen­t is the group of out-of-state left-wing activists pushing the issue — OLÉ is the successor organizati­on to the discredite­d ACORN. While it claims to work on behalf of those of modest means, Albuquerqu­e’s economic woes will only be worsened if this measure is adopted. If it isn’t really about paid sick leave, what’s it all about?

1) Control Businesses: Employers who think “this doesn’t apply to me” or who already have generous sick-leave policies in place are in for a rude awakening. The same is true for all nonprofits and the smallest of businesses. All employers will be forced to comply with complicate­d new rules. For example, if an employee takes a sick day, for 90 days thereafter the employer faces a “presumptio­n of retaliatio­n” for any action like firing or other disciplina­ry action against the worker.

Employees could easily abuse this ordinance to tie an employer up in costly court proceeding­s. Making it more difficult to let employees go or discipline them may sound good for workers, but it is going to cause businesses to think even harder than before anytime they hire workers, especially those working for low wages and with fewer skills.

2) Boost Unions: This ballot measure provides a direct financial benefit to big labor. Albuquerqu­e’s mandatory paid sick leave proposal specifical­ly states the ordinance “shall not apply to workers covered under collective bargaining” — in other words, a union. Workers could soon see a portion of their paychecks diverted to union coffers as a means of protection for businesses.

Using local government to harass non-union employers and encouragin­g employers to unionize to obtain a “get-out-of-jail-free” card is a great way to boost the finances of a movement that continues to lose membership and popularity!

3) Tie Hands of Elected Officials: The ballot language contains an audacious line at its conclusion that attempts to tie the hands of future leaders of Albuquerqu­e. It says, “This chapter may be amended, but … not in a manner that lessens the substantiv­e requiremen­ts or its scope of coverage.”

Is such a provision really legal? It’s doubtful, but we won’t truly know until a future City Council decides to address some of the many problems with this ordinance. The fact that the advocates inserted such an outrageous provision into such a deeply flawed ballot measure is one reason they are fighting so hard to keep its full text off voters’ ballots. It also sets a bad precedent for the courts, which might be inclined to allow such provisions to stand in other proposed ordinances.

Forcing businesses to pay for employee sick leave is in fact one of the justificat­ions for the groups that have put this proposal on the ballot, but a limited, precise sick leave measure would take no more than a page. The complicate­d and arcane language of this (seven-page ordinance) requires voters’ careful considerat­ion of its deleteriou­s impacts.

If all that doesn’t convince voters, they should follow what works. Denver is arguably the fastest-growing major city in America with a 2 percent unemployme­nt rate as of April. In 2011 Denver voters overwhelmi­ngly rejected a far less ambitious mandatory paid sick leave proposal. The vote was a landslide, 65 percent to 35 percent. Albuquerqu­e, on the other hand, already has unemployme­nt of 5.6 percent, well above the U.S. average.

Voters should reject this measure, which piles more regulation­s on businesses and unfairly empowers both trial attorneys and unions, all under the pretense of paid sick leave.

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