Paid sick leave back on the front burner

City Coun­cil-com­mis­sioned study found rate of cov­er­age in Al­bu­querque lower than in the coun­try as a whole

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY JES­SICA DYER JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

When Loren Bur­ton needed surgery to re­move her im­pacted wis­dom teeth, she had to lobby to get the nec­es­sary time off from her job at an Al­bu­querque ho­tel.

Bur­ton needed to meet with her man­ager, pro­vide mul­ti­ple doc­tors’ notes and pick up ex­tra hours af­ter the fact to com­pen­sate.

She was ul­ti­mately granted some leave — a sin­gle day with­out pay.

“I had to come in the next day (af­ter surgery),” she re­calls. “Luck­ily I was a break­fast at­ten­dant, so it

was a short shift. It was four hours. But my cheeks were pretty big at that time, and I had to get dropped off that day be­cause I had the pain pills I had to take, so (I was) dropped off and picked up that day.”

Bur­ton, 22, is now among the mi­nor­ity of hos­pi­tal­ity work­ers in Al­bu­querque who do have paid time off. She took a server job nearly two years ago at Nexus Brew­ery & Restau­rant.

Owner Ken Car­son, who has ad­vo­cated for a paid sick leave or­di­nance, gives Nexus em­ploy­ees — even part-timers — paid leave. It’s a ben­e­fit Bur­ton said she never had in four pre­vi­ous jobs that in­cluded two ho­tels, a restau­rant and an en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter.

In fact, more than a third of Al­bu­querque’s pri­vate­sec­tor em­ploy­ees, or about 100,600 peo­ple, do not get paid sick leave, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

The City Coun­cil-com­mis­sioned study found that the rate of cov­er­age in Al­bu­querque is lower than in the coun­try as a whole — 64 per­cent com­pared to 71 per­cent — and that the ben­e­fit is par­tic­u­larly rare among those in Bur­ton’s in­dus­try and among low­in­come work­ers.

While 36 per­cent of the city’s over­all pri­vate sec­tor work­force has no paid leave, the rate is 64 per­cent in leisure and hos­pi­tal­ity, which has also been the city’s fastest grow­ing em­ploy­ment sec­tor.

The new re­port comes amid an­other ef­fort to man­date paid sick leave in Al­bu­querque, with City Coun­cilor Pat Davis even cit­ing its data in a bill that would re­quire em­ploy­ers of all sizes to pro­vide the ben­e­fit.

The rate of those with­out cov­er­age is also higher than the city av­er­age in re­tail, where 44 per­cent of work­ers have no paid leave.

Dis­par­i­ties ex­ist not just across sec­tors but across in­comes.

Ninety per­cent of those with house­hold in­comes un­der $15,000 lack ac­cess to paid leave, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. That’s com­pared to about one-third of those with in­comes be­tween $35,000 and $74,999 and even fewer at higher in­comes.

Most busi­ness own­ers rec­og­nize their em­ploy­ees’ need to re­cover from ill­ness or care for loved ones, ac­cord­ing to the new re­port from the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico’s Bureau of Busi­ness and Eco­nomic Re­search.

Those who do not pro­vide paid sick leave of­ten say of­fer­ing work­ers un­paid time off is “an ef­fec­tive strat­egy,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is that most em­ploy­ees with­out PSL can nei­ther af­ford leave with­out pay nor to pay oth­ers to care for loved ones when they are ill,” the re­port said.

It also said Al­bu­querque work­ers with­out paid leave es­ti­mate they showed up to work sick 3.5 times last year, the re­port said — 1.8 times when they could po­ten­tially be spread­ing ill­ness.

“Nearly half of em­ploy­ees of leisure and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­tries (45 per­cent) have gone to work sick with the risk of spread­ing ill­ness in the past year, on av­er­age 2.4 times per year. This in­cludes per­sons work­ing in food ser­vices,” the re­port said.

Bur­ton said she had in past jobs gone in when ill, fear­ing she had no choice if she wanted to keep her job in a high-turnover in­dus­try.

“The threat held over you is there’s hun­dreds of ap­pli­ca­tions be­hind me, so if you’re go­ing to not per­form, not be re­li­able, then (the man­ager) can just let you go like that,” she said.

Davis’ leg­is­la­tion, in­tro­duced in De­cem­ber, would en­com­pass even part-time and sea­sonal work­ers and al­low ab­sences re­lated to the em­ployee’s health and for the worker to care for oth­ers, in­clud­ing fam­ily or those with whom there is “the equiv­a­lent of a fam­ily re­la­tion­ship.”

Davis’ bill has yet to go be­fore a coun­cil com­mit­tee, and he said he is wait­ing to push for­ward un­til see­ing the out­come of “paid fam­ily and med­i­cal leave” leg­is­la­tion at the state level that would pro­vide cov­er­age for more se­ri­ous or pro­longed ill­nesses.

He said he has also be­gun dis­cus­sions about a pos­si­ble re­place­ment that would in­cor­po­rate more busi­ness­friendly com­po­nents — for ex­am­ple pro­vid­ing a more grad­ual im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­quire­ments.

Davis’ leg­is­la­tion fol­lows mul­ti­ple failed bids to im­ple­ment a paid sick leave re­quire­ment in the city.

Among the more re­cent was a bi­par­ti­san bill from Coun­cilor Don Har­ris and Coun­cilor Ken Sanchez that would have ap­plied only to busi­nesses with at least 50 em­ploy­ees. It would have al­lowed em­ploy­ees who work at least 20 hours a week the leave just to care for them­selves, a child or spouse. The leg­is­la­tion died when it failed to ad­vance out of com­mit­tee.

The Har­ris-Sanchez bill came af­ter vot­ers nar­rowly struck down a dif­fer­ent, broader or­di­nance dur­ing a 2017 spe­cial elec­tion. That pro­posal, sup­ported by com­mu­nity ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions, lost by about 700 votes out of 91,000 cast.

Last year, the City Coun­cil com­mis­sioned BBER to “con­duct a com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis” of the im­pacts of a city or­di­nance re­quir­ing paid sick leave, pay­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion $73,450.

Coun­cilors re­ceived the fi­nal ver­sion in late Jan­uary, though a draft had al­ready been cir­cu­lat­ing.

Jef­frey Mitchell, BBER’s di­rec­tor and the re­port’s au­thor, said the charge was not to say whether a new law would be a good or bad idea but to pro­vide the Coun­cil with in­for­ma­tion about the im­pact of such leg­is­la­tion lo­cally.

The re­search found that lim­it­ing a sick leave man­date to com­pa­nies with at least 50 em­ploy­ees would only ex­tend the ben­e­fit to 32,254 work­ers of the 100,000 who presently do not have it. Most com­pa­nies that size al­ready pro­vide leave.

But ap­ply­ing a man­date to com­pa­nies with at least 20 em­ploy­ees would cap­ture al­most dou­ble the work­ers — 62,934. Set­ting the thresh­old at 10 em­ploy­ees-or-more com­pa­nies would reach 82,740 to­tal work­ers.

The re­port also at­tempted to quan­tify how much it would cost busi­nesses with­out sick leave to add it, cal­cu­lat­ing the ex­pense of of­fer­ing each worker five paid sick days per year and the cost of ad­min­is­ter­ing such a pro­gram. It cost be­tween $716 to $993 per em­ployee per year de­pend­ing on the size of the busi­ness.

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, BBER’s re­search found the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of work­ers in Al­bu­querque (83 per­cent) sup­port a city sick leave man­date, while most em­ploy­ers (57 per­cent) op­pose it.

Many New Mex­ico busi­ness groups have tra­di­tion­ally fought such leg­is­la­tion, ar­gu­ing it will raise costs, hurt smaller and lo­cal em­ploy­ers and pos­si­bly make the state a less at­trac­tive place for com­pa­nies to lo­cate.

Ad­vo­cates, mean­while, say it could limit the spread of ill­ness and its sever­ity, re­duce em­ployee turnover and po­ten­tially ben­e­fit the econ­omy by keep­ing good work­ers in the area.

Mitchell — who ex­am­ined sim­i­lar laws en­acted in other com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try as part of this project — said lit­tle non­par­ti­san re­search ex­ists on the im­pact of such poli­cies on busi­ness.

“The ma­jor­ity of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties or states that have im­ple­mented this have done so rel­a­tively re­cently, within the last 10-12 years, so you don’t nec­es­sar­ily have a whole lot of his­tory (and) enough time for se­ri­ous re­searchers to have col­lected in­for­ma­tion that would in­form a good anal­y­sis,” Mitchell said in an in­ter­view. “In­stead what you tend to have are in­ter­est groups who will cherry pick.”

His re­port said the re­search that is avail­able tends to fo­cus on pub­lic health “with a pre­pon­der­ance of ev­i­dence that poli­cies ef­fec­tively en­cour­age work­ers to avoid work when ill, thus re­duc­ing the spread of ill­ness. This re­search also sug­gests that low­er­in­come fam­i­lies ben­e­fit in par­tic­u­lar.”

JIM THOMP­SON/JOUR­NAL

Loren Bur­ton is a server at Nexus Brew­ery, which is among the restau­rants in Al­bu­querque that of­fers paid leave to its em­ploy­ees.

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