Business owners may get around new wage laws

Posted at: 02/18/2013 10:20 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

An Albuquerque restaurant owner admitted to KOB Eyewitness News 4 Sunday night that he’s not paying his employees the city’s new minimum wage.

How can a business just decide not to follow a city ordinance, and are there any consequences?

"They were all perfectly happy to work at the existing minimum wage," said Eric Szeman, owner of Route 66 Malt Shop.

But that’s not the case anymore at his restaurant in Nob Hill.

Szeman defended asking employees like Kevin O’Leary to agree, on paper, to work below the city’s new minimum wage in order to save everyone’s jobs.

He admitted most of his 12 employees are paid below minimum wage; specifically tipped-employees who are still being paid $2.13 an hour instead of $3.83 an hour as approved by Albuquerque voters.

Szeman said he simply can’t afford paying the increased wages and this was his idea to save everyone’s jobs.

"I want to see this illegal activity to stop," said O’Leary.

The city of Albuquerque said Szemen’s employment contract is in fact illegal.

But, according to Albuquerque’s Minimum Wage ordinance, business owners like Szeman could get away with it.

That’s because the ordinance isn’t enforced.

It says the requirements of the ordinance “may also be enforced by the City Attorney.”

City attorney, David Tourek says he’s not enforcing it saying, “without the necessary authorization and necessary resources being provided by Council, the City Attorney's Office will not be initiating civil lawsuits."

Labor attorney Dan Faber says it’s up to individual workers being shortchanged to sue their employer.

"If the city has decided it's not going to take the reins of this ordinance and enforce it then I think there are going to be very few enforcement lawsuits brought," said Faber.

The ordinance was written by Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, or Ole.

Rebecca Glenn said there’s good reason for their decision to keep required enforcement out of the ordinance.

"We didn't want to create a new bureaucracy," said Glenn.

When asked if the problem with the effectiveness of the ordinance falls on the authors, Glenn replied, “Again, we wrote it in a way so that we put it in charge of the city to take their own way of enforcing the law. Since they haven't taken their action nothing's really happened."

Although Ole didn’t write in a way of enforcing the ordinance, it said it’s not letting Szeman get away with breaking the law. A boycott rally is scheduled at the malt shop at 11:30 Tuesday morning.