After years of grassroots organizing for paid sick leave, a state bill that would recognize those efforts and provide relief for working New Mexicans has yet to be heard in the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee.
House Bill 37 is a paid sick leave bill, co-sponsored by Democratic state representatives Angelica Rubio, G. Andrés Romero, Patricia Roybal Caballero and Linda Serrato. The bill would — upon passage — immediately require New Mexico businesses to provide their employees with paid time off due to illness.
“This is a very familiar piece of policy for me and for people across the state who have been working to find some equity in a lot of the worker’s justice legislation that we have been trying to push for over the last few years,” Rubio said.
For more than half of New Mexico workers, the passage of the sick leave law would provide a welcome respite after years of having to choose between going to work sick or missing out on a paycheck.
“In New Mexico, at least half of (the) workers don’t have access to paid sick leave,” Stephanie Welch, an attorney from the New Mexico Law and Poverty Center, said. Black, Indigenous and people of color are those most affected by the lack of protections in worker’s rights, according to Welch.
HB 37 would require all employers to provide a “minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked” while allowing employees to loan time out to coworkers and carry unused hours over into the new year.
The bill would also require businesses to provide specific benefits in light of public health emergencies. “(The) employer shall provide supplemental paid sick leave for absences due to the circumstances,” the legislation reads.
Many individuals showed up to provide public comment, with some tuning in from work to share personal stories about why the legislation is important to them.
“I handle raw meat every day, (and) I talk to the customer directly. If I am sick at work, I will be putting my customers and coworkers in jeopardy,” Carl Trujillo, a meat cutter at Smith's, said.
Trujillo is also a part of a “skeleton crew” at Smith's and said because of the pressure put on him to show up, he has to ask himself, “Am I sick enough or well enough to go work?” He said he shouldn’t be forced to ask that question during a pandemic, where the CDC has told workers to stay home at any sign of illness.
Alongside personal testimonies, libertarian and business associations lobbied against the legislation because they feared for already-struggling small businesses.
John Garcia, the executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico, spoke out against the bill, fearing negative effects it might have on the local economy.
“I think that is something that probably won’t work. The business economy is on life support too,” Garcia said.
Garcia also speculated that businesses might leave to another state with less humane worker protections, hurting the New Mexican economy further.
“A policy like this will push away business, because you can go to a state that doesn’t have these kinds of mandates,” Garcia said.
Lexi Gravelle, a University of New Mexico student and a coach for the school’s club gymnastics team, said sick leave is an important issue to many students at UNM who have to work jobs outside of school to help cover tuition and other fees.
“I am fortunate to be living at home for college, but paid sick leave would be very beneficial for working toward school fees,” Gravelle said. “In general, I think required sick leave is important. I know people who have struggled a lot during the two weeks they got sick.”
As of Jan. 31, HB 37 isn’t yet scheduled to be heard in committee.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite