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The main hot topic facing our Burque leaders at the most recent City Council meeting was a paid leave bill intended to give just about every worker bee paid time off by 2022. But alas, sending some support to those keeping all of us going was kicked down the road on a 5 to 4 vote.
The bill was introduced by Council President Pat Davis and Councilor Lan Sena. It would have required companies with at least 10 employees to provide paid leave starting Jan. 1. Workers would not have been able to use it for the first 90 days. The time off could be used for any purpose, not just getting sick or caring for an ailing family member. Businesses with three to nine employees had to start offering time off by Jan. 1, 2022.
The failed measure was intended for employees to earn at least one hour of leave per 32 hours worked, up to 56 hours of leave annually. It covered temporary employees and part-timers, as long as they spent at least 56 hours on the job in a year. The estimated cost was $1,021 per worker per year.
The 60-day deferral vote went down along party lines with Councilor Cynthia Borrego siding with those Councilors spewing the mantra to protect business owners first, workers later.
Almost half of the city’s private businesses do not offer paid leave to their workers. This means that more than 100,000 people might go to work sick or leave their sick child alone to go to work, according to data compiled by the University of New Mexico.
Proponents said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that paid leave is essential, especially for those such as grocery stores and restaurant workers that don’t typically get paid time off. Some said this support is necessary to help curb the spread of COVID-19, particularly among low-wage workers who cannot afford to stay home when sick. Industry reports that Burque workers without paid leave show up sick about three and a half times a year. “No one needs to risk their lives to fix your pizza,” another speaker said.
Opponents said this will raise small business costs at a time when the pandemic is already shuttering doors. A dramatic response was had from some in the business community who all basically said the same thing in different ways: that it will be an extra burden that could put them under. More than one speaker said this was not the time for more pressure on small businesses. “This won’t cure the pandemic, but it may kill small businesses,” one dude said. John Garcia from Home Builders of Central New Mexico characterized it as more of a political move than a practical one. “Moving forward a national agenda, instead of what is right for the city,” he said.
Bernalillo County recently passed a similar ordinance for businesses in the unincorporated areas. Congress passed a federal law, that expires Dec. 31, giving two weeks off paid for COVID-19 related reasons by reimbursing employers through tax credits.
It’s disappointing to see this lack of vision. Twelve states and the District of Columbia require employers to provide paid sick leave.
Some handsome Hollywood-type people from Netflix pitched a plea for some Industrial Revenue Bonds and millions in LEDA dollars. It worked. Councilors unanimously approved a $500 million dollar plus package of monetary delights to entice the mega movie maker to settle in longterm at Mesa Del Sol.
The package includes $500 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds, $7 million in LEDA (Local Economic Development Act) funding and $10.4 million in tax forgiveness. Netflix is putting up its share and has committed to spending more than $1 billion by 2033.
The mega movie folks plan on adding 300 acres to the company’s 30-acre campus, making this the company’s production headquarters. Plans for 10 new soundstages are in the works to keep up with the seemingly endless global thirst for films of all kinds. The state economic development folks put up $17 million as well.
Councilors were trying to score a goal when they authorized a contract with CAA/ICON, a sports consulting firm, to do a soccer stadium feasibility study. The New Mexico United soccer team has lit the state’s soccer fans on fire with its presence even during the interrupted COVID-19 game schedule. Let’s do this.
Next Time, Next Year
Shortly before the Dec. 7 meeting, Councilor Borrego pulled a public health order bill that would have made it easier for city employees to enforce the mask and social distancing rules. Borrego said there was too much backlash after she introduced the bill. Instead, she said they will work on educating the public to wear masks. Bad attitudes can’t necessarily be changed with education, but we can give it a try. [ ]