Officials Attempt to Delay Minimum Wage Increase in New Mexico’s Largest County—And Fail

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In 2013, Working New Mexico members fought for a minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County—and won. Bernalillo is the most populous county in the state and includes the city of Albuquerque.

The increase included a cost of living adjustment, but on January 1, 2015 workers were disappointed that the cost of living adjustment had not been implemented. When a reporter spoke with Commissioner Wayne Johnson about the cost of living adjustment not being enforced, he stated it was an oversight by the commission and they were trying to resolve the issue but a resolution might come as late as 2016.

The minimum wage workers would be losing $0.15 per hour. For a full-time worker, that would equal $312 a year, or a week’s worth of pay.  When Commissioner Johnson stated that it was an oversight on part of the Board of Commissioners, Working America members were upset because this meant that they would not have $312 extra this year to help support themselves and their families.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson also said about the delayed increase that the “damage was minimal if any.” This remark was out of step with the realities faced by minimum wage workers in this country.

On January 13, ten of our members attended the County Commissioners meeting and two of our members testified against the delay. They confronted Commissioner Wayne Johnson about his comments.  One of our members explained how this increase would affect him as a minimum wage student worker. Jaen Ugalde said, “$312 could help us pay for a month of rent, or for a portion of our books.” Lorenzo Pino urged the commissioners to vote on the measure that night to bring relief to Bernalillo County’s low-income families.

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Thanks to our members’ presence and heartfelt testimony, the commissioners took action that night, voting 3 to 2 in favor of a minimum wage cost of living adjustment. It will take effect on January 26, 2015. Commissioners Maggie Stebbins, Debbie O’Malley and Art De La Cruz voted in favor. Unfortunately Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert were the two votes against resolving the delayed cost of living adjustment.

By standing together as Working New Mexico, our members shed light on the plight of low wage workers and their families – and won. Without our members’ work, Bernalillo County officials could have easily gotten away with delaying a much needed cost-of-living adjustment. Working New Mexico, a project of Working America, is committed to standing up for our communities and putting the issues of everyday working people front and center—and when possible, forcing our leaders to take immediate action.

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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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You Know What Doesn’t Work So Well? Private Prisons

The myth put forth by private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group that private prisons are cheaper than public prisons is shattered by a new report from In the Public Interest, thus undercutting the primary rationale for prison privatization efforts across the country. When pushing for contracts with the many states that use private prisons, these corporations claim they are the better option because they can run prisons more cheaply than the government can. But this report not only dispels that idea, it highlights some of the less-than-savory activities the corporations engage in because of the perverse incentives created by these contracts.

The report details several methods through which private prison companies mislead governments and the public about their supposed cost savings, particularly hiding costs of private prisons, inflating public prison costs, benefiting from mandated occupancy minimums and delaying cost increases until after contracts are signed.

Numerous studies have shown that private prisons are more expensive than their publicly run counterparts. The report details a series of meta-analyses of individual studies conducted on the comparative costs between public and private prisons, and all of them found that cost savings, at best, were minimal for private prisons—in many cases, private prisons were more expensive. One of the few studies that showed private prisons to be more cost-effective was funded by the prison companies and is currently the subject of an ethics inquiry at Temple University. A close examination of many of the states that have invested heavily in prison privatization has shown the failure of the “private prisons are cheaper” idea:

  • Arizona: The state found private prisons can cost up to $1,600 per prisoner per year, despite private prisons often only housing the healthiest prisoners.
  • Florida: Three separate multiyear studies found the majority of the private prisons in the state failed to meet the legally mandated 7% cost savings, while half of the private prisons failed to save any money at all.
  • Georgia: In 2011, private prisons cost the state $45.81 per prisoner per day, compared with $44.51 per prisoner per day in publicly run prisons.
  • Hawaii: The state found the projected savings of using private prison contractors were based on bed capacity rather than the actual number of people incarcerated and that indirect administration costs were not included.
  • New Mexico: Over a five-year period, the state saw its annual spending on private prisons increase by 57% while the prisoner population only increased 21%. A significant portion of the increase was because of automatic price increases included in contracts with the private prison corporations.
  • Ohio: The state expected the private operation of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution would save the state $2.4 million a year, but it has turned out to instead cost the state $380,000 to $700,000 a year.

As the report notes:

To maximize returns for their investors, for-profit prison companies have perverse incentives to cut costs in vital areas such as security personnel, medical care and programming, threatening the health and safety of prisoners and staff.

There are several different reasons that savings fail to materialize. CCA and other companies explicitly seek to increase their profits by changing the details of previously signed contracts. They do this by raising the per diem rates the state pays for each prisoner or by requiring occupancy rates of 90% or higher or the state pays for the empty cells in order to reach the required level. Private prison companies cherry pick their inmates and refuse to house more expensive prisoners. Many contracts exclude those higher-cost prisoners, such as those in maximum security, on death row, female prisoners or prisoners that have serious medical or mental health conditions. Companies also make their costs look lower by inflating the cost of public incarceration when making their sales pitch. They can do this by leaving out overhead costs in their prisons, not including costs the state has to pay in either public or private scenarios in the private prison cost but keeping them in the public prison cost calculation, and leaving out the additional costs of overseeing and monitoring private prisons that the state must engage in if it properly oversees its contractors.

At its national convention last year, the AFL-CIO came out in opposition to the privatization of prisons and the profit motive being used to increase incarceration.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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 brrodriguez@workingamerica.org.

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How Will Governor Martinez Treat Film Workers in 2014?

The next legislative session in New Mexico is coming up in January. Our REEL Working America chapter in Las Vegas, NM started conversations about what they would like to see from our lawmakers in 2014.

Many of the REEL members are part of the film industry and share a common interest to keep jobs coming to New Mexico by having strong tax incentives for film jobs. Having a steady stream of full jobs benefits the film community and the entire state of New Mexico.

At a recent series workshop event, REEL Working America hosted a movie night where we showed Made in New Mexico by Brent Morris. This documentary mapped out the history of film in New Mexico and highlighted the importance of making it a state that welcomes the film industry to its backyard.

In March 2013, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a strong film incentives bill, known as the “Breaking Bad” bill. She signed a weaker version of the bill into law, but Gov. Martinez’s aversion to helping the NM film industry thrive is a big concern for REEL Working America members.

The members of REEL Las Vegas demonstrated their support by taking part in a photo petition that showing why they care about NM film.

The year is coming to a close. However, the REEL Las Vegas chapter will keep meeting and gathering local and statewide support to stand behind film workers across the state.

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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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