SANTA FE — More than 71 percent of New Mexico residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine. Thousands of restaurant jobs are vacant statewide, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has even offered up to a $1,000 cash payment for workers to come back in July. But according to state unemployment records and a lobbying group for the restaurant industry, restaurant jobs (and many others) still abound — so much so that many eateries have had to cut hours or even close for a day because they can’t find enough people to meet the demand of a public hungry for eating out after months of staying in. “It’s every place. I’m gonna say 98 percent of restaurants don’t have complete staff,” said Carol Wight, executive director of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.
Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children.
“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities.
With a stroke of her pen, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham set into motion New Mexico’s first minimum wage increase in a decade. Lujan Grisham signed SB 437 into law Monday afternoon, bumping the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $9.00 per hour by the beginning of 2020. Then by 2023 the rate will increase to $12 per hour. “This session, the Legislature sent a clear signal: We will not tolerate poverty wages in New Mexico. And this administration is putting working families first,” Lujan Grisham said.
The state’s lowest-paid workers are likely to get a raise of $1.50 an hour effective Jan. 1, and their wages will rise each year until 2023. After weeks of debate and disagreement over competing bills to raise the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, the Senate and House of Representatives were on course Thursday night to settle on a wage scale. A conference committee of three senators and three representatives reached an agreement in what appeared to be a well-orchestrated presentation. As late as Thursday afternoon, Democrats in the House and Senate were at odds over the minimum wage.
The state House of Representatives and the Senate may be on a collision course when it comes to how best to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law, a priority issue for Democrats in this year’s legislative session. That’s because the House on Wednesday night refused to budge on its proposal to the raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hours by Jan. 1, 2022 and then increase it in future years with a cost-of-living bump. The Senate, however, has approved a more modest proposal designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022, without any further cost-of-living increases.
With only days left in the 2019 legislative session, the struggle between the Senate and the House of Representatives over how to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law continued Tuesday when a House committee clashed with a senator over competing proposals. And while the differences may be minimal to some — an extra dollar an hour in the House bill, a lower minimum wage for high school students in the Senate bill, for example — Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said if the two sides continue to butt heads on the matter, the state’s lowest-paid workers will suffer. “I do not want to get to the point where we cannot work something out and we have no minimum wage [increase],” Sanchez told members of the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. “That’s more of a tragedy than either one of these bills not passing.” But the five members of the committee present for the hearing on Sanchez’s Senate Bill 437 were unmoved, voting 5-0 to attach what he considered an “unfriendly amendment” to his bill and thus putting it more in alignment with a House bill working its way through the Senate side.
The lowest paid New Mexicans are closer to getting a raise. The Senate passed a bill Friday night that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 from in October, phasing in increases all the way up to $11 in 2022, which would still be below the wage floor established in cities like Santa Fe. While it passed 25-17, Senate Bill 437 represented a messy compromise after the state House of Representatives had approved a higher increase backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and in turn stirred heavy opposition from the business sector, particularly the restaurant industry. The Senate’s industry-backed proposal goes now to the House. But even though it would allow Democrats to follow through on a central campaign promise from last year’s election, several lawmakers from the party argued Friday night it does not go far enough.
A Senate committee on Tuesday snubbed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s call to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next several years, advancing instead a more modest bill backed by business groups. Dueling proposals for increasing the wages of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers collided in a packed hearing of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. After a flurry of changes, the committee ultimately advanced a measure that would raise the wage over time, topping out at all $11 an hour in 2021. While not far off from a minimum wage increase backed by the governor and approved by the state House of Representatives, the proposal omits a key provision to adjust the minimum wage annually in the future based on the rising cost of living. And the committee’s vote, in turn, reflected resistance in the Legislature’s upper chamber to some of the newly elected governor’s agenda.
By 9-to-5 standards, Jay Hayden could retire by now. He’s devoted almost 32 years of his life striving to be the best in his trade. But he doesn’t work 9 to 5, and he’s not retiring. Hayden is a lead server at Geronimo, a fine dining restaurant housed in a centuries-old building in Santa Fe on Canyon Road. A modest dinner for two at Geronimo, with an equally modest tip, can easily cost $100.
Democrats are backing off a proposal to phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers like restaurant waiters with a Senate committee voting Saturday to keep the separate rate in place but raise it. House Bill 31 would have eliminated the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour. Employers can currently pay that rate to workers as long as those workers receive tips amounting to the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. The restaurant industry says the tipped minimum wage is key to its survival and has launched an intense lobbying campaign against proposals to abolish it. But others argue that raising or eliminating the lower tipped wage would amount to a significant boost in the base pay for many restaurant workers.