State workers can take an hour off work to give blood. But if they give a hoot about city elections, they need to do it on their own time. That's the takeaway from a pair of emails that went out to state workers this week from State Personnel Office Director Justin Najaka.
As Albuquerque voters went to the polls Tuesday to select their next mayor—or at least their top two choices for a runoff election—the rule could have an impact. The city's municipal election is the state's only one this week.
"As a reminder," the email sent to state employees Tuesday morning reads, "administrative leave for voting is NOT authorized for municipal elections today."
In contrast, Gov. Susana Martinez "is encouraging and authorizing all agency heads to provide employees with one hour of administrative leave to donate blood." So reads another memo sent out to staff this week, giving employees three weeks to donate blood if they so choose.
The voting leave policy, which was linked to in Tuesday's email, allows up to two hours of administrative leave for voting in primaries, general elections, even school district elections. But it doesn't mention municipal elections.
SFR inquired about the ruling with the State Personnel Office, which referred questions to the Governor's Office. A spokesman did not respond to SFR.
The secretary of state had already received a formal request for an opinion on the email by the time SFR called. The Communications Workers of America union asked the office in September if the denial of administrative leave for voting was legal.
In the opinion, State Elections Director Kari Fresquez wrote "state government employees who are registered to vote are entitled to two hours of administrative leave in order to exercise the right to vote in municipal elections." State law, Fresquez reasoned, doesn't specifically mention municipal elections, but it does bar employers from penalizing employees for missing work to vote.
Now, backed by two public employees unions, a pair of state workers has filed suit against the State Personnel Office, claiming the voting policy amounts to a poll tax.
"Using our personal leave is forcing us to use an earned benefit to vote. It's a penalty," says CWA Local 7076 Executive Vice President Dan Secrist. An employee of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, he's one of two named state workers on the class action lawsuit, filed the day before the election.
Secrist feels the State Personnel Office decision on municipal elections is arbitrary. Placed against the urged leave for blood donations, it makes even less sense to him.
"They're both good things," Secrist tells SFR. "Why one and not the other?"
"It seems like voter suppression," he says. Secrist points out that the unions have endorsed Tim Keller, who was leading the field of seven candidates by a large margin in the latest Albuquerque Journal poll. Unions have also come out in favor of a proposed ordinance that would mandate paid sick leave for employees. While Keller and Brian Colon say they'll vote for it, Wayne Johnson—who, like Colon, is fighting for the second spot in the runoff if polls are to be believed—opposes the ordinance.
Keeping union voters away from the polls, Secrist reasons, would thus boost Johnson's candidacy in two ways and give him a better shot at defeating Keller in a head-to-head runoff election in November.