Albuquerque Journal

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


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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