Albuquerque City Council Votes to Strengthen Minimum Wage Enforcement

blog_wagetheft

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

blog_abqtestimonial

“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.”

blog_abqtestimonial2

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.”

IMG_6303

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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].

Tags: , , , , ,

In A Little Seen Move, County Commissioners Make Life Better for Thousands of New Mexicans

This week in Bernalillo County this first phase-in of the new minimum wage increase begins. Now 10,000 low wage workers and their families will be making $8.00 an hour instead of $7.50. Next year, it will increase again to $8.50.

Working America held a thank you event for Commissions Art De La Cruz, Debbie O’Malley and Maggie Hart Stebbins who took measures to ensure that the law was enforceable.

Our New Mexico State Director Chelsey Evans spoke:

“This is really just an incredible day for us to celebrate the fact that 10,000 workers an increase in their paychecks, an increase in what they can spend on food, an increase on what they can spend on just their family in general so overall it’s just a really great day. We also want to take the time to than elected officials who stood up for those 10,000 workers and for our entire community.”

These commissioners included stronger enforcement mechanisms in the law such as a criminal penalty and revocation of business licenses for employers who do not comply.

At this event Working America, OLE and ProgressNow New Mexico members delivered flowers with thank you cards to the commissioners and spoke on the importance of this increase. Brenda Rodriguez, our Member Coordinator in Albuquerque, spoke next about the human impact of the increase:

“This is making a huge impact in the lives of our members, who couldn’t be here today because they are at work.

Lorenzo Pino, who lives in Bernalillo County, is grateful to have county commissioners who stand with workers and make sure that enforcement language is added to the law.

Alma Alvares, who works at McDonalds just outside the city, can now say she will receive a raise just like the rest of Albuquerque. A raise that translates to a little extra cash in her pocket, but more importantly a peace of mind that if her employer decided not to pay her, there is enforcement language that will hold consequences for her employer.

This is not something all of our members can say for Albuquerque, where some folks are getting paid as little as $5 per hour.

We are very honored to have such amazing county commissioners taking a stand for all workers in Bernalillo County and this new minimum wage law is a definitely a step in the right direction for the rest of New Mexico.”

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley spoke on behalf of her colleagues and thanked progressive groups in New Mexico for their hard work.

“This is a very good day for the county and on behalf of commissioners Art de la Cruz and Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins I am here to say thank you all for the work that you put into this initiative, the work from folks like yourself, volunteers and labor who are all here today on behalf of the working people in this region in this county. I wouldn’t have happened.

You know we’re getting the credit but really the credit goes to the community, first the city of course, the initiative and approving that with an overwhelming majority, then of course it came to the county commission.

It was our honor to do this again on behalf of working families, people who work every day preparing our food, sometimes not doing the most pleasant of jobs but this says more than anything that we value families in Bernalillo county. So we very much appreciate this. Thank you very much.”

Though Bernalillo County workers got their raise, Working America is still committed to ensuring that city council members in Albuquerque and Mayor Richard J. Berry carry out the will of their constituents and enforce the minimum wage increase using similar measures to these county commissioners.

The next phase of the minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County will take place on January 1, 2014 and workers will make $8.50 an hour.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Albuquerque Workers on Mayor Berry: “He’s Basically Ignoring a Law and That’s Wrong”

On Thursday night, Working America held its first of many Workers Clinics in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lawyers from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty came in to answers questions on workers’ rights in the workplace.

During the discussion members had questions on wage theft, unjust firing, and filing harassment and discrimination complaints against their bosses. Attendees also asked about what to do when your boss wants you to sign papers without telling you what they say, and how to deal with an employers who pressure workers into quitting to avoid paying unemployment benefits.

Member Ricardo Gonzales talked about why events like the Workers Clinic are important:

“I came to this event because there are many state laws we aren’t aware of. Here they give you options on how the laws work and we become familiar with these laws and can better apply them and ourselves to our workplaces.

I recommend that all citizens, residents, and all the people that live here know this because it is with the knowledge that you can gain from people who do know the law you can better defend yourself.

This would be good to have in the state, Santa Fe, the capital, and all of Albuquerque so that people aren’t being discriminated or abused as they currently are.”

Member Gilbert Armijo agreed:

“Tonight I hope to learn more about what the requirements are for businesses to make sure they paying right. Here in Albuquerque we’ve got a problem because we’ve got a Mayor Richard Berry who in my mind has been derelict in his duty as a public official to carry out laws that have been enacted, and especially ones that have been enacted by the people’s vote.

This was not passed by the City Council or anyone else, this was the people’s vote and Mayor Berry has said, “Screw them,I’ll do what I want to.” And he’s basically ignoring a law and that’s wrong.

And we don’t just need words of compassion, we need action and the minimum wage is one of the most important, fundamental unpinning of helping people become economically self-sustaining.”

Our members will continue to speak out during Working America’s “Got Your Raise Yet?” summer education campaign. Organizers will educate low wage workers on their rights, and continue to pressure the city council and Mayor Berry for the law’s enforcement.

Join us Monday, July 1 at 11:00am in Civic Plaza for the Bernalillo County Commissioners Thank You Event. To get involved text RAISE505 to 30644.

Tags: , , , , ,

This Mayor Doesn’t Like His City’s New Minimum Wage Law, So He’s Ignoring It.

This past November, 66 percent of Albuquerqueans voted in favor of raising the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50, and from $2.13 to $3.83 for tipped workers.

Despite this being the new law of the land, Albuquerque’s Mayor Richard Berry and members of the city council have refused to enforce it.

At the latest City Council Meeting on Monday June, 24th, Working America member Lorenzo Pino spoke out about the minimum wage increase and why it is the city council’s job to enforce the law.

“The minimum wage that the citizens of Albuquerque voted on has happened. One problem still exists. Have you been made aware of in the past some of the businesses here have not wanted to comply with this ordinance and some of them feel like they have a choice?

We know of some people that still have not received the minimum wage increase that went into effect on January 1, 2013. The county passed similar legislation that has language that would ensure the compliance.

So the question is: what mandate are you willing to take to ensure that they are met herein the city as well.

I have always been led to believe that we live in a democracy and that the majority rules. Well the majority spoke with the only voice they have in government, and it’s their vote. We spoke and you are ignoring our decision.”

Our members will continue to speak out during Working America’s “Got Your Raise Yet?” summer education campaign. Organizers will educate low wage workers on their rights, and continue to pressure the city council and Mayor Berry for the law’s enforcement.

Tags: , , , , ,

Five Bucks An Hour When the Minimum Wage is $8.50? That’s Theft.

On Thursday, June 27, at 6:00 p.m., Working America, OLE, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, and attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty will host a clinic for workers to discuss wage theft, safety, harassment and discrimination on the job.  Attorneys will also work with the workers to come up with solutions and take next steps regarding their situations.

The clinic is part of Working America’s summer “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign to educate low-wage workers on the recent minimum wage raise from $7.50 to $8.50 that went into effect on January 1, 2013.

The campaign will also put pressure on the Albuquerque mayor and city council, who have refused to enforce the voter-approved wage increase, though thousands of low-wage workers continue to struggle.

Organizers will distribute education materials such as tip cards in restaurants where workers are eligible for the raise. These cards will inform workers about the raise and provide them with tools to get more information and share experiences. During the “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign, organizers and members will also actively pressure the city council and mayor’s office for enforcement through worker testimonials.

WHO: Workers, organizers with Working America, OLE and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos and attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

WHAT: Workers clinic to discuss wage theft, safety and harassment on the job

WHEN: 6:00 p.m., Thursday, June 27, 2013

WHERE: Working America Office, 201 Coal Ave SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

RSVP on Facebook!

Want to learn more? Contact Ianthe Metzger at [email protected] or 202-538-2026.

Are you a worker who isn’t getting paid at last $8.50 an hour, or a tipped worker who isn’t making $3.83 an hour? Text RAISE505 to 30644 to tell us your story.

Tags: , , , , ,