This Week, We Could Expand One of the Nation’s Highest Living Wages to Thousands More Families

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Working America members will attend the final county commission public hearing to express their support for an ordinance establishing a living wage in the unincorporated areas of Santa Fe County.

The City of Santa Fe has had one of the nation’s highest minimum wages since a living wage ordinance was adopted in 2002. Thanks to a cost-of-living adjustment, it will be $10.65 as of March 1, 2014.  But outside the city limits, thousands workers in surrounding Santa Fe County are still working under the statewide minimum of $7.25 an hour–and in places with weak enforcement, even less.

“No one deserves to live below the poverty line,” said Reel Working America member Willie Martin. Martin and other Working America members collected hundreds of petition signatures in support of the Santa Fe County Living Wage Ordinance.

Both houses of the New Mexico legislature passed a minimum wage increase last year, but Governor Susana Martinez vetoed the measure, calling it a “gimmick.” Recognizing the growing popularity of raising the minimum wage, Gov. Martinez vetoed the bill on Good Friday at the beginning of a long weekend, and scrubbed any mention of the veto from her taxpayer-funded official website.

That didn’t deter Working America members and organizers from pressuring the leaders of the state’s largest county, Bernalillo, to expand Albuquerque’s minimum wage increase countywide. And it won’t stop us from expanding Santa Fe’s groundbreaking living wage to that entire county either. Taken together, we’ve raised wages for roughly 40 percent of New Mexico’s population despite Gov. Martinez’s secretive veto.

Working America members include workers, consumers and business owners who support and benefit from raising the wage in Santa Fe County. Among these members there are also members of Reel Working America, a joint program of Working America and IATSE 480 for film and technical workers who don’t have a union on the job. Reel Working America is composed of background performers, film students, and filmmakers who believe Santa Fe County workers deserve to make a living wage similar to the city of Santa Fe.

Working America has 110,000 members in New Mexico and 4,500 members in Santa Fe County. Reel Working America has 1,000 members.

Learn more by liking our Working New Mexico Facebook page.

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How We’re Raising Wages in New Mexico Even Though Our Republican Governor Doesn’t Want Us To

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Like so many New Mexico workers, we were disheartened when Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a reasonable increase in the minimum wage last year.

We were even more disheartened when she scrubbed her website of any mention of the veto, and when many workers calling her office to ask about the veto couldn’t get through.

But if Gov. Martinez won’t act to improve the lives of New Mexico workers we will.

After the veto, we pressured Bernalillo County Commissioners to expand the Albuquerque minimum wage increase to the entire county. By a 3-2 vote, 10,000 workers throughout New Mexico’s largest county got a raise.

Now, we’re moving to Santa Fe County. The city of Santa Fe itself has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, a living wage of $10.51 an hour, but workers outside the city limits are barely above the federal minimum at $7.50.

Over the past six months, we’ve gathered over 6,000 signatures in support of a Santa Fe County Living Wage Ordinance that would expand the city’s living wage to the whole county. Most of those signatures were gathered by volunteers.

On Tuesday, Santa Fe County Commissioners Liz Stefanics and Miguez Chavez will introduce a bill similar to the Santa Fe County Living Wage Ordinance. We’ll be at the Commission Chambers on Grant Avenue to show our support.

On Wednesday, we’re gathering at the Center for Progress and Justice to to talk about the next steps of this campaign. Please join us.

In both Bernalillo County and Santa Fe, we’re showing Gov. Martinez and her allies that if she won’t do her job and help alleviate poverty in our state, we’re more than happy to take up the charge.

If you are able to join in on this effort, or want to be a part of our future advocacy on behalf of New Mexico’s working families, please contact me at 505-247-0371 or brrodriguez@workingamerica.org.

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The Impact of Higher Wages on Latino Living

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The following is a guest post from Working America member Israel Chavez from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

One in five Latinos is paid the minimum wage, and nationally 33 percent of Latinos live in poverty, the second highest racial/ethnic group.  This means an increase in the federal minimum wage would directly affect the quality of life for Latinos families across the country and especially in poor states like New Mexico.

Raising the minimum wage to a level that would allow families to adequately provide would alleviate strains these families experience under the current wage.

What we need is a wage that allows people to live decently and is tied to the cost of living.

In Albuquerque, 66 percent of voters supported a raised minimum wage that is indexed to inflation, meaning it will automatically increase as the cost of living goes up. This is often interpreted as an automatic “raise” but that is just false. Indexing wages simply means that as the prices of necessary goods increases, like milk, gasoline, and clothing, minimum wage will be able to keep up.

All too frequently, those who oppose raising the minimum wage have never had support a family on it.  It is a matter of dignity and fair pay for work that is performed. Wages are not a handout but hard earned money by deserving people. Policies that allow families to adequately support themselves impacts the whole community positively.

Today, those who would oppose increasing the minimum wage claim that it would devastate the economy, stating that it would increase prices of goods and hurt workers even more. However, studies show that as the value of minimum wage decreases, inflation continues to increase.

All the while, gross domestic product of the United States, with minor exception of the recession, has continued to rise. As the buying power of low wage workers decreases, year after year corporations lobby to keep the minimum wage low in order to continually grow profits on the backs of America’s lowest paid employees.

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A lot of people claim it’s only young people that make the minimum wage. Only about 12 percent of minimum wage workers are younger than 20 years old. But claiming only young people make minimum wage just reinforces the argument that Latinos need this increase. In the U.S., Hispanics are younger than the rest of the population, with a median age of 27 years, significantly younger than the rest of the population which is 37 years. In truth, raising the minimum wage will provide a boost to all Latino workers, young and old alike.

The New Mexico House and Senate passed an increase in the minimum wage, but Gov. Susanna Martinez vetoed the bill. In Albuquerque, Mayor Richard Berry and members of the City Council have tried various maneuvers to slow or weaken implementation of the new minimum wage. But Working America is fighting to raise the minimum wage: it’s good for Latino workers, it’s good for small businesses, and above all, it’s the right thing to do.

Photo via @OleNewMexico on Twitter

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Albuquerque Officials Still Refuse to Enforce Minimum Wage, Suggest Exploited Workers Bring Lawsuits

“You are asking minimum wage workers to bring litigation?” That was Israel Chavez’s question to the Albuquerque City Council after they said they could refer workers who aren’t receiving the current minimum wage to private attorneys.

Chavez and other Working America members attended the City Council meeting on Monday, August 5 asking councilmembers to enforce the minimum wage increase of $8.50 per hour and $3.83 for tipped workers that went into effect on January 1, 2013. Two thirds of Albuquerque voters voted in favor of this initiative.

Mr. Chairman, over the past six years I have witnessed and experienced business taking advantage of low-wage workers. We are waiting for you to enforce our mandate. By not enforcing the current minimum wage, democracy by definition is being subverted and favors business interest over voters.

Enforce this minimum wage on behalf those who need it the most. Include enforcement language just like Bernalillo County Commissioners have done. There are people right outside this building not being paid the current the minimum wage. It is right and it is what will help the people of Albuquerque.

The current response from the city attorney is to refer people to private attorneys. However, this is not a feasible option for many minimum wage earners.

“This is a public issue, not a private issue. They should not be forced to take on private attorneys,” said Chavez, who has been a server for six years in Albuquerque. City Councilor Rey Garduño agrees with Israel Chavez “I think it is the city’s job to enforce this.”

Working America members in Albuquerque will continue to hold the City Council accountable to enforcing the current minimum wage.

To become involved in the “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, contact Brenda Rodriguez at brrodriguez@workingamerica.org.

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Viva Las Vegas…New Mexico: We’re Ready to Boost Local Film Industry

In the beautiful small city of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Reel Working America members are ready to improve the local film industry.

When Reel Working America members in Las Vegas first started meeting as a Community Action Team back in May, they had a lot of unanswered questions about the film industry. Nancy Upthegrove-Jaramillo wondered if there was a local film directory and if it was up-to-date. “Where can we look for this film directory? Can we create our own?” asked Jaramillo, a long-time educator and background performer.

Another member, Diego Romero, an independent filmmaker and actor, wondered where independent filmmakers could seek resources to make low-budget films in his hometown.
Kerry Loewen, currently a professor at New Mexico Highlands University, said he’d like to get the word out about Las Vegas as a reliable workforce of background performers and crew members to attract more films and TV series.

Collectively, they decided they needed answers to these questions. This past Tuesday, Reel Working America members and the Las Vegas Film Commission met to discuss current projects and priorities. During this meet-and-greet, our members prepared a set of questions they wanted to ask the commission, including how Reel Working America can support the commission’s work. This question sparked a dialogue about potential projects like the creation of a local film directory, background etiquette workshops, film opportunities and training.

“One of our priorities is to get the community more involved in helping film grow in Las Vegas,” said film liaison Lindsey Hill. Reel Working America members in Las Vegas embrace this invitation enthusiastically. They are eager, talented, and ready to make Las Vegas the best place for film and TV productions.

If you are currently in New Mexico and you are interested in learning more about Reel Working America, contact Member Coordinator Brenda Rodriguez at brrodriguez@workingamerica.org.

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Reel Working America Members Taking the Lead

In New Mexico, people from across the film industry have come together through REEL Working America. Their goal: to expand opportunities for the film industry in the state and advocate for people who work in film.

Six of our members have stepped up to form an Advisory Board for REEL Working America. These six volunteers will each take on a role advocating on different issues in film. They’re eager to take the practical steps that will mean more jobs and better working conditions for people who work on all aspects of film production.

With a strong, energetic Advisory Board in place, REEL Working America is ready to make New Mexico’s film industry the best it can be. We’re proud to introduce the new Advisory Board:

Top row:

Actors Outreach Chair: Ross Shaw’s passion is acting. He has been fortunate enough to have been found a path in film and television acting in his own backyard. His great new career also includes theater and commercials. For him, being the Actors Outreach Chair means exploring the acting community and striving to help aspiring actors succeed.

Fundraising and Membership Chair: Actress Dalisa Marlene Contreras has been in the film industry since 2009. She was born and raised in Albuquerque. She was first introduced to New Mexico Films with her first role as a background performer in Terminator Salvation. She has been involved in shows like Breaking Bad, Scoundrels, In Plain Sight and The Odds ,as well as many films. She joined Reel Working America so that way we could make a difference not only in our film community but also to increase opportunities for those who want to become actors. She joined the Advisory Board to bring people together to help New Mexico Film grow and make it better.

Events and Publicity Chair: Catharine Pilafas received her Bachelor of Arts in Acting and minor in Dance from the University of Northern Colorado. After making her New York theatre debut in Victory Garden’s off-broadway production of “Conviction,” Catharine shifted her career focus to film and television in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Catharine has appeared in: Longmire, In Plain Sight, Fatal Encounters, Void, Dead Billy, and Billy Shakespeare. Also, a member of New Mexico Women In Film, Catharine is excited to continue to contribute to the film industry in New Mexico, and bring her passion for event producing to Reel Working America. An avid athlete, and practitioner of yoga, Catharine loves to be active along side her husband, writer, Adam James Jones, and their pug, Tobey.

Bottom row:

Political Chair: Patrick Wier is a screenwriter and college instructor living in Albuquerque. A New Mexico native and graduate of the University of New Mexico, he worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines in Texas and Oregon for about 25 years before entering graduate school, where he was awarded an M.A. in literature. He is a self-described life-long political junkie.

Independent Filmmaking Chair: Shelley Carney is the producer of New Mexico Media Makers at UPublic TV as well as an 8-part web series called “Joysticks”. She is an actor and screenwriter and she is working on the team producing the Albuquerque Film and Media Experience. She is excited to take part of the Advisory Board as Independent Filmmaking Chair.

Background Performers Outreach Chair: J. Nathan Simmons is originally from Oklahoma but has worked in the film industry in New Mexico since ‘91. He founded newmexicoactors.com in 2000 and now he is writing and producing his own work, with the help of talented friends and colleagues. He is excited to take part as the Background Performers Outreach Chair for Reel Working America.

Taking Action for Reel: New Mexico Film Workers On the Move

Currently, in New Mexico, our joint-organization with IATSE 480, Reel Working America, is rapidly expanding.

After Film & Media Day in Santa Fe, our membership totaled 600 members and just recently we reached out to 150 new members in Las Vegas, New Mexico. But perhaps the most exciting part of Reel Working America is the active roles and leadership our members are taking in the legislative issues that are affecting the film industry—such as the “Breaking Bad Bill.”

House Bill379 – dubbed the Breaking Bad Bill - would increase tax incentives to 30 percent for TV shows producing at least six episodes in New Mexico. Hollywood called the Breaking Bad Bill a “game changer,” but far more importantly it would create more jobs for film workers and local businesses that cater to the various needs of the productions.

One of our members, Shelley Carney, expressed the importance of this legislative bill:

Film has become a family business for me, my husband, and children. It’s helped us build a future together, beyond this, the film industry has become our family and we are all doing our part to grow that in New Mexico.”

As Governor Susana Martinez was debating signing the bill, Reel Working America members expressed their support with about 1,000 photo petitions with statements such as “Let’s Bring Jobs Home” and 700 written statements about why they personally supported the bill.

Although Gov. Martinez ended up vetoing the bill, a similar initiative was added to a larger tax package of which the Governor finally signed –  a big win for the New Mexico’s film industry. Not only will this initiative will bring new film jobs to New Mexico, but it was an opportunity for our members to step up and take on leadership roles during a pressing time for the industry.

This marks a great beginning to the glowing future of Reel Working America.

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New Mexico’s New Year’s Resolution

Congrats to Brenda Rodriguez, our new Member Coordinator in Albuquerque, on her first post for the Main Street Blog! -Doug

This past Christmas, when majority of people kept a close watch on their holiday spending, Working America members took the time and energy to speak with their co-workers, friends, and neighbors to ask them to donate a can or two for our annual holiday food drive. The result? A network of people came together to create Christmas Gift Baskets for families who are currently unemployed or underemployed.

One such member is Rosie Sandoval, a retired 71 year old, who reached out to all her neighbors about donating non-perishable food items for the holiday food drive. Thanks to her efforts, Rosie – along with her network of neighbors – was able to contribute to the food baskets for families in New Mexico. Mrs. Sandoval understands the plight of many working-class families first hand but also values the power of collective giving: “It’s not much, but we share all that we can during these difficult economic times.”

Such is the case for Martin Hall, a 53-year old disabled veteran, who depends on social security. “I can’t afford gas,” Mr. Hall explains, “so I have to walk it everywhere. If they were to lower Social Security, I won’t be able to pay for rent or my bills. I will be living in the streets.” Mr. Hall voices the concern of many people in New Mexico currently struggling with unemployment and poverty. It is going take a strong collective force to make the change New Mexico needs.

A year ago, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez spoke about a “shared sacrifice” in her State of the State address. At that time 1 out of 4 children lived in poverty, and corporations enjoyed a very comfy tax loophole (they still do). Startling economic indicators show, however, that Martinez’s so-called “shared sacrifice” isn’t getting New Mexico’s economy back on track.  As we start the New Year, we must resolve to bring the uneven weight of these sacrifices to light and begin to reprioritize our collective needs.

Today, New Mexico has the largest wealth gap in the nation, 1 out of 3 children live in poverty, and we are one out of only two states still showing negative job growth.

Despite all of this, 2012 ended with a great victory for Albuquerque. The initiative to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 passed with an overwhelming support of 66 percent, meaning 2 out of every 3 Burqueños voted in favor of the initiative. Thanks to Albuquerque voters, 40,000 people will benefit from this new legislative bill giving the community spending power and boosting the local economy. The implementation of the minimum wage increase in Albuquerque signifies a new beginning for New Mexico. In a time when 6.2 percent of New Mexicans are unemployed and 31 percent of New Mexico children live in poverty, it is time to reevaluate the priorities of our state leaders and start following the thread of collective power of our communities.

The spirit of the holidays, just like the energy of the New Year, should not be measured by a shared sacrifice, but by the long-lasting relationships we form with our neighbors and co-workers that creates a collective power that can win a minimum wage increase by a landslide, a collective power that can and will fight against poverty, job loss and unemployment; the spirit of I am Working America.

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