Commentary: Every morning, Yvonne clocks in for her shift as a manager at a Southern New Mexico
convenience store. There’s a steady stream of customers going in and out, in addition to the
employees with whom she works. Masks and social distancing help. But the reality remains.
Every cough, every wipe of the face, every invisible particle that leaves the body is potentially
life-altering. Going to work during a global pandemic exposes Yvonne to COVID every day.
To make matters worse, Yvonne’s employer has cut her hours. The cost savings measure contains an undercurrent of insensitivity -- even cruelty. The lack of hours means she’s not eligible for health insurance. As an hourly employee, if she doesn’t work, she doesn’t eat. It’s a rock and a hard place that makes the incentive to work while sick a decision with no easy
Samuel Nevarez’ experience is the polar opposite. Employed by one of the major mobile phone
carriers, the technician for Spanish speaking customers says his employer successfully
transitioned more than 1,200 employees from the call center to work from home. While there are
options to make up missed work time, paid sick leave isn’t available.
That must change.
No person, from the CEO to the person who sweeps the floors, should have to choose between
earning a paycheck or taking time off when they or a loved one gets sick. It’s time for the city of
Albuquerque and the rest of the state to make paid sick leave the law of the land.
Bernalillo County recently took a small step in the right direction. Starting October 1, Bernalillo
County’s Employee Wellness Act provides any worker in the unincorporated areas of the county
that works up to 56 hours per year for an employer with more than two employees up to 28
hours of paid sick leave per year. Employees at larger companies can earn up to 56 hours of
paid sick leave per year.
The Albuquerque City Council and the state legislature have legislation in process to make paid
sick leave the law locally and statewide. Some legislators who might be seduced by the
propaganda machine of lobbyists who decry any benefit for workers as “job killers” will find no
haven with any segment of the electorate.
An August 2020 Change Research poll found paid sick leave enjoys bipartisan support.
Legislators who may be tempted to say paid sick leave is too big in size and scope will also find
an electorate flexible to what paid sick leave actually looks like in the state. The same August
poll found that 73 percent of voters favor seven days or paid sick leave per year, while 75
percent would also support one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
As COVID continues to alter our way of life, we must resist the urge to put profits over people.
This is a state that had no problem helping big businesses stay alive with huge corporate tax
cuts and as oil and gas raked in record profits. Surely, we have enough empathy and know-how
to help working people stay alive as well.
It’s time to pass paid sick leave. We need not ask how much it’ll cost if we do, but rather, how
many lives will be lost if we don’t?
Melanie Vonfange lives in Truth and Consequences and is a New Mexico Working Families Party member