NEW: Protestors launch boycott of Nob Hill restaurant that won't pay city minimum wage

Posted at: 02/19/2013 7:49 AM
Updated at: 02/19/2013 12:36 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Local protestors on Tuesday boycotted a Nob Hill restaurant whose owner refuses to pay a city-mandated minimum wage.

Activist group ProgressNow New Mexico calledfor a boycott and protested outside the Route 66 Malt Shop in Nob Hill late Tuesday morning.

They are contesting the diner owner's choice to not change the minimum wage despite a city ordinance. The owner, Eric Szeman, asked employees to sign a contract sayingthey'd take the old minimum wage so everyone could keep their jobs.

It means servers would stay at $2.13 instead of making $3.83 an hour. Szeman says the reason he won't pay the new wage, is because he can't.

He says it's already tight to make payroll and if he had to enact the new wage, he may have to close the diner altogether, putting everyone out of work.

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Restaurant Association issued a statement Tuesday reminding Albuquerque restaurant owners to follow the minimum wage increase that went into effect January 1, 2013.

“The Restaurant Association understands the financial burden the minimum wage increase puts on our members. However, Albuquerque voters approved the hike and we must respect the law,” said Carol Wight, CEO of New Mexico Restaurant Association.

“Our position remains that most voters did not understand that they were voting on a 139% increase for tipped employees, but as it stands, it is the law. We will continue to ask the Mayor and City Council for relief for our industry. Until then, we urge compliance.”

“The Association believes that Albuquerque restaurants will be forced to raise their menu prices or worse, close their doors. Restaurants are also strong supporters of charitable causes. The wage hike means they will have to cut back on their support of the community. In that case nobody wins,” added Wight.

“This battle is not over. We will continue to educate city voters on the unintended consequences of the wage hike and will work to repeal the ordinance,” concluded Wight.

The controversy has drawn attention to the fact that the city won't be enforcing the ordinance.

The city attorney says unless the office has authorization and resources from city council, they won't be pursuing civil lawsuits.

If a worker wants to lodge a complaint, they will have to file a lawsuit on their own.

In addition to ProgressNow protestors, supporters are expected to counter-protest Tuesday as well.

Stay with KOB for continuing coverage of this event.