The Rio Grande Foundation signed this opinion piece along with numerous other business groups. The Sick leave ordinance is being introduced at the ABQ City Council meeting on Monday, November 9, 2020.
Back in July, Darin Sand, vice president for development at Goodman Realty, told the Albuquerque Journal “We are diversifying and looking to other cities and states in terms of future investments, and I think that’s smart … because of the political environment here.”
He was one of several local business owners who expressed concerns about their ability to do business in Albuquerque in the article, “ABQ businesses manifest financial ruin.” The story highlighted in stark detail the impacts of the economic lockdown. It also showed ways in which state and local economic policies make life difficult for local businesses.
Yet the Albuquerque City Council will be bringing up the issue of a paid sick leave mandate. This comes on top of a minimum wage increase passed in 2019 by the N.M. Legislature that will take the city’s lowest wage from $9.35 an hour to $10.50 an hour starting in January. That’s a 12% increase.
Not many local businesses have achieved 12% growth this year. In fact, the list of local business closures in recent months, due mostly to COVID-19, is long and growing fast. Does the City Council really want to hasten the demise of even more of the stores and restaurants that make our city and state unique?
Albuquerque voters rejected a paid sick leave mandate in 2017. And the City Council rightly decided to put off the issue back in June of this year. It is hard to see what has changed that would merit the imposition of yet another increase in the costs of doing business.
If anything, with the state’s economic lockdown dragging on and Albuquerque’s unemployment rate elevated, the state of most small businesses is even more precarious than it was this summer. A widely-acknowledged trend to arise from the COVID 19 pandemic is that many big corporations are doing fine or even better than before, while small businesses are struggling. Numerous local businesses have yet to reopen at all since March, and yet the City Council is considering imposing additional costs and regulations on them.
The ongoing COVID situation should not be an excuse to impose more costs on local businesses. At the beginning of the outbreak Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. This paid leave is then paid back to the employer by the federal government. This is effective through Dec. 31 and likely to be extended with the next federal relief package.
It is, of course, small, family businesses that will be most negatively impacted by another costly policy. That’s because unlike big corporations, each new mandate makes doing business incrementally harder as they have less cushion and are not diversified in numerous areas of the country.
Valuing small business is why we’ll all celebrate Small Business Saturday later this month. While many of us have enjoyed the ability to have products and services delivered during this pandemic, it is also worth noting that Amazon doesn’t sponsor many youth baseball and soccer teams around town.
While businesses in Albuquerque face numerous difficulties, we do value our workers and want them to be healthy. In fact, workers often stick with small businesses because they more resemble a family. We know COVID-19 has impacted all of us, not just our bottom lines, but our friends, families and employees. We’ve heard “We’re all in this together.” If that is truly the case, now is definitely not the time for Albuquerque’s City Council to put more regulations on struggling local businesses.