City hears from residents about new wage ordinance

Posted at: 02/20/2013 10:45 PM
By: Jill Galus, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The firestorm continued Wednesday over the city's minimum wage ordinance, and a local restaurant that is not paying it to workers.  City Council heard all about it during their regularly scheduled meeting.

If you work at a local business, you expect to be making at least the city's new minimum wage, but KOB Eyewitness News 4 has learned that is not always the case. 

When it comes to enforcement, it is at the city's discretion with this ordinance whether to get involved, and officials are choosing not to.

KOB broke the story of the Route 66 Malt Shop owner paying employees below the city's new minimum wage. Chances are, he is not the only one.  But without any clear enforcement, some are questioning what the incentive is to do so.

When a City Council member asked City Attorney David Tourek if the minimum wage ordinance is indeed a law, because the administration mayor's office has full responsibility for administering laws that are passed, Tourek replied, "It's a discretionary act."

Tourek added he has already used his discretion and determined “it's a private dispute between private people."

Tourek said a short clause allows the city to opt out of taking any action.

It reads, "The requirements of this ordinance may also be enforced by the city attorney."  But the key word in that sentence is "may" and Tourek is choosing not to.

Wronged employees can, however, get private attorneys and sue.

"I don't think it's the proper path for the city to start representing private individuals in any type of action, let alone minimum wage or something else. We've never done that," Tourek said.

Others spoke out against him.

"Well if a minimum wage employee had enough money he could sue, but it's minimum wage. Don't you understand that, Mr. Tourek?" one man stated during public comments.

Attorney Karl Kalm repeatedly pursues Albuquerque employers who are not meeting minimum wage requirements, but said it is time the city steps up and does more too.

"They don't want to come forward and risk losing their low paying job," Kalm said.  "The minimum wage workers are already working. Almost all of my clients I have work 60 to 80 hours a week. They don't have time to go to lengthy court proceedings."

In Santa Fe, the minimum wage ordinance is worded so that it is a misdemeanor if an owner is not in compliance.  A few councilors mentioned possibly looking to Santa Fe as a frame of reference.