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Sick leave not the (main) point of ballot measure

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.

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, economic freedom and individual responsibility.