ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The state’s new paid sick leave act has been in effect for more than a month now, but KRQE News 13 has learned not everyone is getting it. There’s an exception that lawmakers created on purpose.
Seasonal and temporary workers who work for the city and the state aren’t covered in the Healthy Workplaces Act. “What the law provides is all people who work for private employers have the right to accrue paid sick leave as they work,” says Stephanie Welch, director of worker’s rights at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Welch says without this law, employers just weren’t giving their workers paid sick leave.
However, a bill that began with the intention to ensure all employees in New Mexico had the ability to address their health ended up leaving out public employees. According to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, more than 176,000 New Mexicans were classified as working for some level of government. Their exemption from this legal mandate means they have to rely on local policies or agreements to get covered. “If you can’t afford to stay home then you have to go to work and then you put risk to yourself and everybody else,” Welch says.
The City of Albuquerque employs around 6,400 people. Nearly a thousand of those people aren’t considered full-time; and while the city’s policy does cover paid sick leave for full-time workers, seasonal and temporary workers and those who work less than 20 hours a week are out of luck.
“The people who are working for the city are providing some of the most basic services that we all rely on. So they certainly should be guaranteed this basic right even if they’re part time or temporary or for whatever reason the city’s policy doesn’t cover them,” Welch says.
When asked why some workers aren’t covered, the city replied they are following all paid sick leave requirements, and that they offer incentive and donation programs. However, advocates for workers’ rights say the city should step up.
“The city often puts out really generous policies to their employees and they publicize it when they do that. Like when they provide paid family and medical leave and when they do provide paid sick leave. So given that that’s their public messaging, I am surprised that they’re denying it to a chunk of the people doing the work for the city,” Welch says.
There was a move by the Albuquerque City Council to pass their own paid sick leave ordinance in late 2020, but it never got enough support. Bernalillo County did pass one in 2019 that does apply to its employees.
News 13 reached out to New Mexico legislators who worked on this bill to find out why it ended up excluding state and city workers. Representative Christine Chandler said in a statement:
“We focused the Healthy Workplaces Act on providing earned sick leave to private employees because of our understanding that the vast majority of public employees already have earned sick leave. We passed this bill because no one should have to choose between going to work sick and being able to pay their rent or keep their lights on. If there are some public employees who are unable to take sick leave when they need it, that is something we should explore.”
Rep. Christine Chandler (D) Los Alamos