Albuquerque business owner not paying new minimum wage

Posted at: 02/17/2013 10:56 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

PHOTO: Eric Szeman
PHOTO: Eric Szeman

An Albuquerque restaurant owner admits he is not paying his employees the city’s new minimum wage.

He claims his employees agreed on paper to work at the old wage.

One employee says he agreed out of fear of losing his job.

"I'm a good server. I enjoy serving. This is what I've been doing," said Kevin O’Leary.

O’Leary was looking forward to the boost Albuquerque’s minimum wage increase would give him.

That is, until he says his boss at Route 66 Malt Shop approached him with an ultimatum.

"I asked him, 'what is this? What's this form all about?' And he said, 'well, it's just that you're agreeing to the $2.13 an hour.' So I signed it," said O’Leary.

O’Leary’s February 15 paycheck confirms he is still getting paid $2.13 an hour, not $3.83 an hour as approved by Albuquerque voters last November.

Owner Eric Szeman said he warned employees of layoffs when the ordinance was proposed and admits he approached O’Leary and his tipped workers with an employment contract.

"It was an attempt to save everyone's job, which we did,” said Szeman. “We worked out a compromise that saved everyone's jobs.”

When asked whether that compromise was made by not following the city’s ordinance, Szeman responded, “Yeah."

Szeman says we’re only hearing about this because O’Leary is upset his hours were cut after he gave bad customer service.

Szeman, other restaurant owners and the New Mexico Restaurant Association are fighting to appeal the wage and other related increases for owners.

"I would like to comply,” said Szeman.

So why won’t he?

“We can't afford it,” he exclaimed. “We don't have the money. We don't make the money."

He says his payroll went from about $3,600 every two weeks to about $6,000.

"I want to be fairly compensated for what I've done. I want the money owed to me," said O’Leary. “Ok... The option is I'll get my keys right now I'll kick all the customers out and I'll lock the doors. That's the only other option we have," said Szeman.

The City of Albuquerque says it is not legal for a business owner to draw up a contract, paying employees below the minimum wage.

But, the city says, ‘The city is not responsible for enforcing this because it is a “self help” ordinance.” An employee could potentially file a lawsuit against his or her employer. 

O’Leary says he probably won't take that route.

He also intends to go into work on Tuesday as scheduled.