The New Mexico House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour in July and increase it annually starting next year. But amid heavy opposition from the restaurant industry, lawmakers backed off immediately abolishing the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and instead elected to phase it out over the next few years. Democrats made boosting the minimum wage a central promise of last year’s campaign and argue House Bill 31 will amount to a raise for about 150,000 workers across the state. With a bigger Democratic majority in the House this year, legislation proposing an increase of several dollars per hour was bound to pass the chamber. But HB 31 is still likely to meet opposition in the state Senate, even from some Democrats, spurring what will likely be a round of negotiations over just how high legislators on both sides of the Capitol can agree to raise the minimum wage.
Democrats campaigned last year on a promise to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage, which has remained at $7.50 an hour for a decade. How high it will go, exactly, is a question that quickly has become wrapped in a battle waged by the restaurant industry and could get caught in a tug-of-war between the state House and Senate. The issue has raised a series of other questions as well. Should there continue to be a lower minimum wage for workers who traditionally earn tips from customers, such as restaurant servers? Should employers be allowed to offer a lower minimum wage to younger workers, like high school students?
How high will the statewide minimum wage go? Or will it go at all? For many business owners, that is a key looming question during the 60-day legislative session. The minimum wage in New Mexico, unchanged since 2009, could see an upward adjustment from $7.50 an hour. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, wants to double that to $15 an hour Jan.
A worker’s rights coalition and New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) settled a year-old lawsuit alleging the state agency failed to adequately investigate or take action on wage theft claims.
The settlement agreement outlines policy and procedural changes the state department will make. Wage theft claims against employers, for example, will now be investigated regardless of the dollar amount involved. The coalition accused DWS of avoiding action on claims worth more than $10,000 and advising employees to instead file a lawsuit against their employer. DWS also agreed to implement a more comprehensive process for workers to file claims against employers who fail to pay minimum wages, especially workers whose first language is not English. Jose “Pancho” Olivas, a named plaintiff in the case, said in a statement, that he and others in his community depend ton DWS to keep employers accountable for fair working conditions.
An Albuquerque district judge rejected challenges to the city’s minimum wage ordinance this week, saying it was simply too late to reverse something voters decided on and approved nearly five years ago. “Each and every exercise of voters’ rights and expression of voters’ choice involves our inherent and cherished rights and is entitled to the same degree of deference and protection whatever its source,” Judge Alan Malott wrote in his Wednesday decision. His decision came in a wage-theft lawsuit alleging that the former owners of Kellys Brew Pub, including Dennis Bonafontine, violated the city’s minimum wage ordinance by making workers pay $3 per hour from tips to the owners. The current owners of Kellys Brew Pub did not challenge the minimum wage and have not been named in the suit. The allegations date back to when the city’s tipped minimum wage had just spiked from $2.13 per hour to $5.16 per hour as a result of a 2012 city ballot initiative.
Three advocacy organizations are teaming up to intervene in and halt a lawsuit filed by business groups that want to reverse Albuquerque’s minimum wage and keep a paid sick leave ordinance off the ballot in October. The Center on Law and Poverty, which is acting as counsel, filed a motion to intervene and a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Thursday in Albuquerque district court. The Center on Law and Poverty, is representing a group of city voters who are members of Organizing in the Land of Enchantment (OLE) and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos. The New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, NAIOP and the New Mexico Restaurant Association filed the lawsuit against the city earlier this month. The lawsuit contends that both city initiatives amount to illegal “logrolling,” which it refers to as “the presentation of double or multiple propositions to the voters with no chance to vote on the separate questions.” Attorney Pat Rogers, who is representing the business groups in the lawsuit, cites the fact that the proposed sick leave ordinance has 14 sections to it as an example.
The ex-owners of an Albuquerque restaurant and bar want a state district court judge to throw out a wage theft lawsuit against them and argue the ordinance that raised the city’s minimum wage is invalid. If a judge were to rule the ordinance was not validly enacted, it would lower the minimum wage to the state’s rate of $7.50 per hour. Currently, the Albuquerque minimum wage is $8.80 per hour. The current owners are not part of the lawsuit. “Santa Fe Dining purchased Kelly’s in August of 2016 and since that time all Kelly employees are paid by the rate required by law, including the Albuquerque ordinance at issue in the lawsuit between the former owner of Kelly’s and some of its employees,” Jim Hargrove, president of Santa Fe Dining, wrote in an email to NM Political Report Tuesday.
Gov. Susana Martinez officially kept her promise that she would veto minimum wage increases. In her Thursday veto message of one of the bills, HB 442, Martinez said increasing the minimum wage would hurt small businesses throughout the state. The bill would have increased the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $9.25 per hour. It also would have barred local governments from passing or keeping current laws that require employers to give advance notice of work schedules to employees. Related: Martinez signs, vetoes dozens of bills; the highlights
“This bill was part of a wider effort in both chambers to provide increased opportunity to hardworking New Mexicans,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement Thursday night.
Gov. Susana Martinez said Saturday she will veto legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage. Lawmakers approved two bills during the 60-day legislative session to raise the wage of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers, who make $7.50 an hour. One bill would have raised the minimum wage to $9 an hour, and the other called for an increase to $9.25. But soon after legislators adjourned Saturday, the Republican governor told reporters both increases are too high for small businesses to afford. “I was willing to compromise,” Martinez said, adding that an increase to between $8 and $9 an hour would have been acceptable.
The state minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour from $7.50 by April 2018 if Gov. Susana Martinez signs a bill that has been passed by both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 41-27 to pass Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. The bill would increase New Mexico’s hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018. It also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October. The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.