ABQ faces class action suit over disparity in pay for women

The City of Albuquerque is facing a class action lawsuit, filed by female employees who say they have been paid less than their male counterparts for years. 

The suit was filed in 2018, but this month a state district judge ruled that the suit can include any classified female employee who worked at the city between 2013 and 2020 and was paid less than males doing the same job. The suit can also include those who no longer work for the city, but did during that time period. 

Alexandra Freedman Smith, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said she and the other plaintiffs’ attorneys are now in the process of notifying other women who might be owed compensation. 

The impetus of the suit is partly a New Mexico law enacted less than 10 years ago called the Fair Pay for Women Act. 

“The Fair Pay for Women Act was enacted in 2013, so from then on, this has been an issue,” sha said. 

Freedman Smith also said, unlike many other class action lawsuits that offer plaintiffs a cut of a settlement amount, women in this case are owed raises, back pay and possibly a recalculation of retirement pay.  

“The class members are entitled to substantial amounts of money,” she said. “We’re not talking about small amounts, we’re talking about large amounts.”

As part of his decision to allow the suit to become a class action, the judge included evidence that seemed to show a number of men started off at a higher wage than women who had been doing the same job, for longer. 

Freedman Smith said that data shows that the issue is not about job performance or seniority. 

“What we’re talking about is the base pay that people are paid, and they’re just getting a higher base pay from the get go than the women, even women who have been there a lot longer,” Freedman Smith said. 

Freedman Smith also said she has tried to work with the city to address the problem, with no success. 

“We’ve certainly tried to negotiate with them and they just haven’t been willing to do anything about it,” Freedman Smith said. In a statement through a spokesman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office, the city’s legal department pointed out Keller’s past work advocating for pay equity. 

“While we can’t comment on ongoing litigation, Mayor Keller has been at the forefront of the pay equity fight in New Mexico for years, including leading the first statewide study of pay equity while at the State Auditor’s Office, and he will continue to advance fairness at the city,” the statement read. 

As state auditor, and months before he was elected to be mayor, Keller said his office found pay disparity on a state level. 

But less than a year after Keller became mayor the plaintiff’s filed their suit against the city. At the time, the plaintiffs were represented by Matt Garcia and Jonathan Guss.

‘We need to get adults to stop Tweeting and start acting’

Friday afternoon, Albuquerque middle and high school students took over a corner of the University of New Mexico’s Johnson Field—and then a busy intersection nearby—to demand action on climate change. Alyssa Ruiz from Sandia High School told the crowd that while the United States plans to spend more than a billion dollars building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2020 cuts spending on renewable energy. “When will our future be considered a national emergency?” she asked. Katie Butler, a 17-year-old student from La Cueva High School, was among the co-organizers of the School Strike for Climate Action.

Funds from spending bill go towards helping ABQ homeless population

It started with a break up. About four years ago, James Moyer’s girlfriend and mother of his children kicked him out of her home. Moyer worked at a major retail store in Albuquerque, but without a car or enough money to pay rent on his own, he resorted to staying in a tent at a nearby city park so he could make it to his 6 a.m. shifts on time. But, Moyer said, showering for work became a problem even with a public pool nearby.  

“I would go over to the pool and shower over there, but you could not do that every day.

On the Colorado River, will New Mexico be left in the dust?

The Colorado River supplies water for more than 36 million people in two countries and seven states, including New Mexico. As river flows and reservoir levels decline due to drought, warming and over-demand, states are wrangling over how to voluntarily conserve water use—before reservoir levels reach critically low levels and trigger mandatory cutbacks. New Mexico is one of the states most vulnerable to the impacts climate change is wreaking on the river. Yet, it’s unclear what the state is doing when it comes to drought management in the state and basin-wide negotiations on the Colorado. The seven states subject to the Colorado River Compact are divided into Upper Basin states—Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah—and Lower Basin states—Arizona, Nevada and California.

Giving back to the river, one deal, one drop at a time

Earlier this month, a trickle of water started flowing back into the Rio Grande near the Pueblo of Isleta. It wasn’t runoff from a thunderstorm or storm drain. Rather, it was part of a deal between Audubon New Mexico, local municipalities and The Club at Las Companas to put water in the river for the benefit of the environment. After a poor snow season in the mountains, the Middle Rio Grande started drying in early April, when it should have been running high with snowmelt. As of Thursday, about 30 miles are dry south of Socorro and another mile is dry where the river flows through Isleta. The Rio Grande will never be what it once was decades, nevermind centuries, ago.

Feeding—and healing—the hood

Beneath the gnarled limbs of a sprawling cottonwood tree at the edge of his South Valley farm, Lorenzo Candelaria settles into a circle of lawn chairs. He’s surrounded by staffers from Project Feed the Hood, including Travis McKenzie, Stefany Olivas, Luzero Velasquez and a few student interns. There’s also nine-year old Trayvon, who hops into the (empty) roasting pit, samples blackberries, catches (and frees) a tiny toad and peppers Candelaria with questions about his beehives. “This is the Cottonwood Clinic,” says McKenzie. He’s the co-founder of Project Feed the Hood, which connects communities with healthy food and young people with the land—and a paycheck.

Get ready for the Rio Grande’s bad year

As high winds whipped dust, Siberian elm seeds and recycling bins around Albuquerque Thursday afternoon, dozens of people filed into the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque office to hear the agency’s 2018 forecast for water operations on the Rio Grande. “I’ll be the bearer of bad news,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “This is the most extreme shift we’ve had from one operating plan meeting to another.”

Last year at this time, snowmelt was pouring down the river, flooding riparian restoration projects, filling out farm fields and even pressing against levees. This year, the lack of snowpack throughout the watershed’s mountain ranges has left the Rio Grande low and slow—and dry for 14 miles south of Socorro. Currently, the river is dry through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Marijuana

Keller makes reduction of penalties for pot possession law in ABQ

Possession of small amounts of cannabis is no longer a criminal offense under Albuquerque city code. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed city council legislation Thursday making cannabis possession a civil infraction. City councilors approved the measure earlier this month on a 5-4 vote. In a statement, Keller said the new ordinance will allow city police officers to focus on combating other crimes. “We’re facing real challenges in Albuquerque and this is a step in the right direction to allow our officers the flexibility to better prioritize their time tackling violent crime and property crime in our city,” Keller said.

Albuquerque protesters rally around a suite of issues, from women’s rights and DACA to economic justice

On Sunday morning, with snow in the Sandias and temperatures in the 30s, thousands of people converged on Civic Plaza in Albuquerque for the Women’s March. The crowd may have been smaller than in January 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but it was no less defiant of the president’s policies. Speakers called out in support of the #MeToo movement and equality for LGBTQ communities. They rallied to fight racism and economic inequality and reaffirmed the rights of Indigenous women. Many spoke about the pervasive nationwide fear that DREAMers, who had been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, will be deported.

Environment news for the new year: power plants, nuclear contracts, water and Clean Power Plan comment period

I hope readers had a restful break from work, school and yes, media, too. To help catch you up on environment news around New Mexico, I have a few links to share. In December, PNM closed two units at its San Juan Generating Station. Now, the utility wants legislative approval to address how it will recover the money it spent on the plant. According to an AP story by Susan Montoya Bryan:
The utility closed two units at the plant in December as part of an agreement to curb haze-causing pollution in the Four Corners region.