Albuquerque City Council Votes to Strengthen Minimum Wage Enforcement

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Employers who don’t pay the Albuquerque minimum wage could now face jail time or other penalties, as per a new city ordinance approved late Thursday night by a 7-2 measure.

The ordinance comes after months of organizing by Working America to increase awareness on the lack of enforcement. The measure now goes to Mayor Richard Berry for his consideration.

The minimum wage increase became effective in early 2013, but there have been complaints from workers and community members alike that employers haven’t abided by the new law, essentially committing wage theft and cheating workers out of the raises they’re owed.

Currently, the minimum wage in Albuquerque is $8.60 per hour and the tipped wage is $5.16. Both are indexed to the cost of living.

“In 2012, our members worked hard to pass the minimum wage increase, so it was both frustrating and baffling when employers flouted the law without penalty,” said Working America state director Jared Ames.

Now that stricter penalties are coming down the pipeline, there’s hope that workers may be able to get the pay increases that they deserve.

“This shows they are on the side of working class families and I’m excited to see them take steps in the right direction,” said Working America member and tipped worker Israel Chavez, who testified before the City Council.

Since the wage increase became law, Working America has been on the front lines, fighting for the enforcement of the law and attempting to hold the city accountable.

“Working America has led the effort to draw attention to the lack of enforcement, and mobilized its members at city council meetings and actions. This victory is one more indication that we can make an impact by letting our voices be heard,” Ames said.

Working America members have also helped raise wages in Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties, despite Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing a statewide minimum wage increase passed in 2013.

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Working America Members Help Hotel Workers Get Fair Pay

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An Albuquerque-based hotel has been found in violation of wage theft of at least one employee, due in part to the valiant organizing of Working America members.

Back in August, a group of Working America members approached member coordinators regarding their pay. At the time, hotel employees were tasked with cleaning rooms and were being paid $3.25 per room.

After careful research, Working America took charge and partnered with the Center for Law and Poverty (CLP) to contact the Department of Labor (DOL) and arrange a meeting with the afflicted workers.

During interviews with the DOL, workers indicated that they were forced to clock out early and they weren’t being paid the city’s minimum wage of $8.50 an hour.

From there the DOL launched a formal investigation, and on March 18th it was found that an employee in the hotel’s housekeeping department was making less than the Federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Although the organization wasn’t able to address the workers’ municipal minimum wage issues, it seems that the DOL investigation has prompted the hotel to take a more ethical approach to its wage policies.

“’I have seen a lot of changes since the investigation,” says one Working America member. “I would work so many hours and I would see a very small paycheck but now it’s a higher amount, and it seems fair,” she said.

For information on how you can help fight unfair labor practices like this one, visit: www.workingnewmexico.org

Photo courtesy of Center on Policy Initiatives via Flickr.

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A Server And A Restaurant Owners Unite On Raising New Mexico’s Minimum Wage

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Both an Albuquerque server and a Santa Fe restaurant owner testified in favor of an increase in the minimum wage in front of a New Mexico Senate committee on Wednesday.

During a recent legislative hearing Julia Castro, owner of the Santa Fe-based Café Castro, noted that her employees are paid above the state’s $7.50 an hour wage. Santa Fe has a citywide living wage of $10.61 an hour.

“I’m proud to say that none of my employees are making a living wage, they make above that,” Castro says. “I would be ashamed if they were making only the living wage.”

During the hearing Castro went on to note that as it pertains to her small business she, “can, without a doubt, afford to pay the living wage.”

Castro’s testimony comes almost a year after both Houses of the New Mexico legislature passed a bill in March 2013 raising the minimum wage to $8.50 and indexing it to inflation. Unfortunately, Gov. Susana Martinez called the bill a “gimmick” and a “job killer” and vetoed it on Good Friday to avoid heavy press coverage. Additionally, the governor scrubbed all mention of the veto from her official, taxpayer-funded website.

Thankfully Castro takes a different approach. “We need to stand up as business owners to fight the disparity between the working poor and the business owners,” she says.

Working America member and Albuquerque resident Israel Chavez echoed Castro’s testimony noting that, “Families of New Mexico need this increase. Prices of goods continue to go up and wages do not,” he says.

Working America successfully rallied to raise the wage in Albuquerque, but there’s still work to be done. “Not everyone in the state is as lucky as we were in Albuquerque and I think that’s not ok,” Chavez says.

All of this begs the question, if the owner of a small business that sells moderately priced food items can pay employees fairly without killing herself, then why can’t the rest of New Mexico’s business owners do the same?

Watch clips of the testimony below from OLE New Mexico:

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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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Why Is This Democrat Retreating On The Minimum Wage Increase The Voters Already Passed?

Albuquerque City Council President Ken Sanchez is a Democrat and a frequent “swing vote” on the often-divided Council. So workers’ rights advocates were dismayed when he said he was open to weakening Albuquerque’s minimum wage law.

Quick review: In November 2012, Albuquerque voters passed a ballot measure raising the city’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour. The measure also raised the minimum wage for tipped workers and tied both wages to inflation.

And since November 2012, politicians and lobbyists have been assailing the minimum wage law, doing everything in their power to weaken it.

It started on the Saturday after the 2012 election, when Republican members of the City Council talked about immediately repealing the law.

Then the city’s Republican Mayor, Richard Berry, and the City Attorney, David Tourek, making the ridiculous claim that it was not up to the city to enforce the law.

The city’s callousness toward workers reached a head when an assistant city attorney recommended that minimum wage workers hire lawyers to take on their employers case by case; an insulting, out-of-touch statement toward tipped workers who are in some cases making $5 or less.

Gregory S. Wheeler, an assistant city attorney, told HuffPost that it wouldn’t be fair to say workers had “no outlet” in the event they’re not paid the minimum wage. He said the office has been referring complaints to private attorneys who should be eager to take the cases.

“If there are attorney fees out there, then attorneys will take them,” he said.

Now, Council President Sanchez says he’s “open to imposing limits” on the minimum wage law’s cost-of-living adjustment, which allows the minimum wage to rise with inflation.

On Monday, Working America members testified before the City Council to make sure Council President Sanchez and his colleagues understood the effects of weakening the minimum wage law.

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“I don’t understand how you can believe that with a capped COLA one can survive,” said Katia Lopez, “We work 2-3 jobs to barely make ends meet. We invite you to walk a mile in the shoes of a working Albuquerquian; so you can see how hard we work, how we live.”

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Maria Maldonado stressed that if the city was interested in changing the law, they should make it stronger, not weaker. ”We need families united, that are able to spend time together and fair wages, not families that can barely survive with the current wages; we need enforcement; not a capped cost of living.”

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Lorenzo Pino didn’t mince words during his testimony. ”I find it hypocritical that you trust the people of Albuquerque to vote you into office,” he said, “but that you don’t trust them to vote an ordinance that benefits the working class, and that was passed with 66 percent support.”

We know that Council President Sanchez is hearing from lots of folks these days, including lobbyists for low-wage industries like restaurants and retail. We will continue make our voices heard and ensure that the working people of Albuquerque hold city leaders accountable.

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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 [email protected]

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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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14 Worker Struggles To Pay Attention To This Labor Day

Sure, to some people #LaborDayIs about barbecues and fashion rules. But #LaborDayIs also about, you know, labor. Today, workers across the country are struggling for decent wages, safe workplaces, affordable healthcare, and even basic civil rights.

North Carolina’s Moral Monday

North Carolina's Moral Monday

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) and the North Carolina legislature have passed huge cuts to state unemployment insurance, an overhaul of the state tax code, big education cuts and the nation’s strictest voting restrictions. Lead by the NC NAACP’s Rev. William Barber, North Carolinans of all stripes have gathered by the thousands to for huge weekly “Moral Monday” protests to stand up to Gov. McCrory’s agenda.

Learn more about Moral Monday and check out some sweet protest photos.

Oh and thanks to @sherierb for the thumbnail photo.

The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers


The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers
After the huge protests in 2011 against Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining restrictions, Gov. Scott Walker and his allies changed the rules at the state Capitol Building in Madison, requiring protesters to have permits. His reasoning? Um, none.

The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers had been gathering in the Capitol every day to protest the Walker agenda through song, and suddenly their gatherings were illegal. Singers started getting arrested. In response, hundreds of Wisconsinites joined their singing brethren to stand up to the ridiculousness of the arrests and the broader anti-worker Walker agenda.

Learn more about the Solidarity Singalong and read more intrepid reporting on the protests from John Nichols.

The fast food strikers

The fast food strikers

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On August 29, fast food workers in 58 (!!!) cities went on strike for better wages and a voice at the workplace. Learn more from Josh Eidelson and check out some awesome strike photos on our Tumblr.

Walmart associates seeking respect

Walmart associates seeking respect

Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, pays low wages, inconsistent schedules, and little to-no health benefits. But across the country, Walmart workers are organizing primarily for respect at the workplace.

Learn more at ForRespect.org.

Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents

Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents

First, Gov. Tom Corbett cut over a billion dollars from public education in Pennsylvania. Then Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and school officials demanded $133 million in concessions from school employees. Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents are marching, striking, and even fasting to call attention to their city’s school crisis.

Houston wage-earners fighting against theft

Houston wage-earners fighting against theft

Houston workers are fed up with employers committing wage theft – not giving a last paycheck, making employees work after punching out, etc. – and are pushing the Houston City Council to pass a wage theft ordinance.

Learn more from the Down With Wage Theft campaign.

Washington, D.C. retail workers

Washington, D.C. retail workers

The D.C. City Council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) in July, which raised the minimum wage for big box retail workers to $12.50/hour. Walmart responded by freaking out and threatening to cancel construction of their D.C. stores. Mayor Vincent Gray has still not made up his mind about whether to cave to Walmart’s wishes or stand up for D.C. retail workers at stores like Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Target.

Learn more about the LRAA and D.C. retail workers.

Albuquerque minimum wage workers

Albuquerque minimum wage workers

In the 2012 election, Albuquerque voters passed a minimum wage increase with 66 percent of the vote. But in 2013, Albuquerque’s Republican Mayor Richard Berry and members of his city council refused to enforce the new law.

No joke, they are actually telling workers who make as little as $4 or $5 an hour to hire private lawyers to sue their employers. That’s their solution.

Needless to say, Albuquerque workers aren’t taking this lying down. Working America and allies have launched a “Got Your Raise?” campaign to pressure city officials and educate workers about their rights. Learn more about the situation in Albuquerque or click here if you prefer your news in “Breaking Bad” form.

Concert tour dancers and choreographers

Last year, music video performers won a groundbreaking union contract after, establishing workplace standards for the industry after decades of advocacy.

Now, the Dancers’ Alliance and SAG-AFTRA are launching #theUNIONIZEtour to ensure that performers on concert tours have workplace protections, access to affordable health care, and a fair shot at gigs.

Watch the video above and learn more here.

LGBT workers in 29 states

LGBT workers in 29 states

Thanks to the activists who came before us, we have federal laws saying that you can’t be fired for being old, female, pregnant, or disabled (yay!). Unfortunately, in 29 states, there are no such protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender workers. That’s why workers’ rights and LGBT groups are organizing to pass a strong Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Learn more from Pride at Work.

Transgender workers in 33 states

Transgender workers in 33 states

Add Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, New York to the map above. Pride at Work has great information on this too.

Domestic workers

Domestic workers

Millions of domestic workers, mostly women, are employed by households and businesses across the country. Most of them have little to no worker protections – no minimum wage, overtime pay no nothing.

State by state, domestic workers and allies have worked to pass “Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights” to establish basic protections. Ai-Jen Poo, founder and director of theNational Domestic Workers Alliance (and Working America board member #plug) toldThe Nation that President Obama might soon bring domestic workers under the protections of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would be “one of the most significant victories for low-wage workers of this administration.”

Learn more about the Ai-Jen and the NDWA.

Mississippi auto workers

Mississippi auto workers

Auto workers at Nissan in Mississippi have been trying to exercise their basic right to form a union, but are getting blocked by the company. Lethal Weapon/workers’ rights star Danny Glover has been active in calling attention to the situation. Not only that, but Nissan workers in Brazil, France, and South Africa have expressed solidarity. Learn more at DoBetterNissan.org.

Danny Glover: He’s not too old for this. #LethalWeaponJoke

Solidarity in Brazil.

No big deal, it’s just Common. (!!!)

Finally: 11 million undocumented workers and their families

Finally: 11 million undocumented workers and their families

Establishing a path to citizenship isn’t just about immigration. It’s about bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows, where they are currently vulnerable to every employer abuse imaginable.

Learn more about the connection between workers’ rights and immigrant rights here.

What did we leave out?

What did we leave out?

There’s a lot more going on that we didn’t cover. Feel free to keep the list going in the comments below, and visit WorkingAmerica.org for more information on how you can get involved.

Respoted from BuzzFeed

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Want New Mexico to be More “Business Friendly?” I Agree. So Let’s Start With Education.

The Albuquerque Journal posted a letter last week from a Rio Rancho resident named Robert Monday. While Mr. Monday and I are both concerned about New Mexico’s economic prospects, I wanted to respond to what he – and too many of our state’s politicians – see as the solutions.

In his letter to the editor “Let’s walk the walk on being business-friendly” appearing on July 22, Mr. Monday offered suggestions to Senator Tim Keller on how to boost New Mexico’s situation.

We – and this may be somewhat cultural – tend to feel that we have no control in the race to the bottom and consequently those with ideas that might move us forward tend to give up or never try. Too many parents do not value education and don’t encourage their children to even become educated, much less stand out and excel as a person.

Here are some big ideas for the senator. Next session push the following: 1. A constitutional amendment that only allows a single term of six years for state elected officials, no PERA retirement and no lobbying for six additional years; 2. Repeal the law that allows public employee unions; 3. Pass “Right to Work” legislation; 4. Get rid of the Construction Industries Division; and 5. Change our liquor laws to ownership by our state.

I fear that if we take the steps Mr. Monday suggested, we will place our state in an even more dire situation than we are in today.

Rather than unfairly blaming all of New Mexico’s parents, I would turn your attention to one parent who has made it clear in the past three years that she has no concern with improving our state’s public education system: Governor Susana Martinez.

Both Mr. Monday and I agree education is a crucial part of a strong economy. But since Gov. Martinez took office in 2011, New Mexico has seen some of the deepest cuts to an already struggling education system.

Mr. Monday says that Gov. Martinez and Mayor Richard Berry have stood “head and shoulders above” their predecessors and seem to be working hard at moving our state forward. I’d ask him then for his definition of “moving our state forward” because from where most New Mexicans are standing Martinez and Berry are doing the exact opposite.

If our Governor was concerned with education and our economy, would she appoint a Secretary of Education who hasn’t taught a day in her life?

Would she force school districts to add 5 to 10 more students per class?

Or would she force our hard working teachers to pay for school supplies, as their already underfunded districts can’t afford them?

And would she veto a raise for thousands of hardworking New Mexico parents, a minimum wage increase bill passed by both the state House and Senate?

Sorry, but the verdict is back on this one.  Demos, a non-partisan public policy center, has just released a study proving an increased minimum wage pulls families out of poverty, creates jobs and adds billions to the economy.

I also wonder by how many heads and shoulders she stands above her predecessor after just being named by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as one of the most corrupt governors in America amid her current FBI investigation?

In Albuquerque, we aren’t faring much better.

I personally wouldn’t call losing nearly 20,000 jobs in the last four years “progress.” That number that has put us among the worst of all municipalities in the country.

Maybe it was hard to hear the termination packets hitting the table over the shots being fired across the city and the whine of Department of Justice sirens following close behind.

Rather than mock Sen. Keller and his peers who have continued to work on legislation like the wage increase that will in fact help our economy, maybe Mr. Monday should take some time to review his ideas for economic growth.

The suggestion to pass so-called “right to work” legislation and breaking public unions is not the answer.

I’d urge him to look at the facts on this one. How could New Mexico benefit from passing legislation that has created higher poverty rates and lower median wages like so-called “right to work” has done in other states?

And lets not forget the benefits that teachers’ unions play in our children’s education.  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, our country’s most proficient students in reading and math do not live in “right to work” states.  In fact no state with a “right to work” law cracks the top ten.

“We need new blood,” Mr. Monday says. I agree. Let’s put leaders in office who are actually concerned with what’s most important: jobs, education, higher wages and lifting New Mexico out of poverty.

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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 [email protected].

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