Will voters in Albuquerque decide on Tuesday, Oct. 3, that businesses in the city have to provide paid sick leave to workers? Opponents say it will hurt small businesses, and advocates say it will lead to healthier communities. Another facet of the debate is emerging: the necessity of paid sick leave for people who’ve been assaulted.
Domestic violence or a sexual assault can set off a chain reaction in a family that can take a lot of time to deal with.
When Renee Ashley’s daughter told her mom she’d been assaulted, Ashley used a week of her paid leave to bring her daughter to the Rape Crisis Center, undergo a medical examination, talk to detectives and get hooked up with counseling. "There was also, too, a lot of talking between us, and crying, and comforting and cuddling, and that kind of thing as we worked through it together," she said.
But Ashley, a lawyer, felt pressure from her employer not to use her leave and vacation time this way. So she quit and started a practice of her own. Now she often assists people trying to get out of an abusive household. "When you start looking at the statistics as to who’s going to stay in an abusive relationship or who’s going to be pre-disposed to another abusive relationship," she said, "it goes with financial concerns."
Ashley said being able to take paid time off and keep your job is critical to making it possible for people to leave dangerous long-term situations or heal a family. The sick leave ordinance before Albuquerque voters is part of that, she says. "It is going to take a big step in the direction of helping those survivors who have been traumatized to seek out and get the help that they need so they can become healthy again."
The rates of domestic violence are pretty high in New Mexico, and so is the rate of women being killed by men, according to a recent report.
Enlace Comunitario trains survivors of domestic violence to become community educators called promotoras. Leticia Sierra has been doing that work since 2015. She said having sick leave will bring emotional stability to a survivor, so their energy can be focused on the process of leaving their abuser instead of on money problems.
Sierra said sick leave is a basic need – it shouldn’t just be considered a benefit that comes with having a good job.
About half the people working in the private sector in Albuquerque don’t have paid sick leave, according to the ordinance, and more than three-quarters of part-time workers in the city don’t either.
Ivy Rizzo is the co-owner and HR director for Fano Bread Company, which employs about 30 people and has been in Albuquerque for 26 years. Fano already has a leave policy similar to the proposed one, even though it’s not yet required by law. "It’s not like a gift from me. It’s something that they’re earning—one hour for every 30 hours worked," she said. "That’s not that much. It really doesn’t add up to that much."
When we met, coincidentally, her small son was sick, and she had to take the day off to take care of him. "It’s actually an investment in your company, because you’re investing in your employees who are going to stay with you longer, and they’re going to be happier and they’re going to be healthier," she said. "And if you have happy, healthy employees, you’re going to have a happy, healthy business. That’s the way it goes."
Industry associations and small business owners in the city have objected to the sick leave proposal, saying it will be hard on employers. It would allow up to 40 hours off a year for smaller businesses, and 56 for larger ones.
Carol Wight said it will cost businesses millions and will devastate some of them, which means fewer jobs. She’s the CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. "I don’t think Albuquerque can handle that right now. Our economy is suffering," she said. "And we really need to consider that when we’re passing these kind of laws on those employers that are doing their best to stay alive and survive."
All of the businesses she represents, Wight said, would consider it their duty to help an employee in distress, regardless of the law. Plus, she added, what’s on the ballot isn’t well-written and creates a host of other legal problems. "If we had the ability to help out and create that law from the beginning, I believe that we could come to a law that would work for Albuquerque, and Albuquerque businesses and the employees."
The full ordinance is on the ballot. The font is pretty small, but the city clerk says there will be magnifiers and bilingual supplements in 12-point font at the polls so people can read it for themselves. Folks can also listen to the ordinance on headphones.
Albuquerque’s election happens tomorrow. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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