Bernalillo County considering a raise in minimum wage

Posted at: 03/12/2013 10:31 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Bernalillo County is considering whether to increase its minimum wage outside city limits to be more in line with Albuquerque’s new minimum wage.

But unlike the city, the county wouldn’t get involved in lawsuits against employers who don’t comply.

"I'm pleased to introduce this change to the minimum wage ordinance," said Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz before Tuesday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting.

But De La Cruz’s minimum wage proposal is already facing its first critic.

"We're trying to dictate costs from this podium and that's fundamentally wrong," said Commissioner Wayne Johnson.

Johnson is a small business owner.

"We're going to tell business owners some of which are lying awake in the middle of the night at 3 a.m., and I've been one of them, trying to figure out how the heck to make payroll," said Johnson.

If passed, Bernalillo County’s minimum wage would increase from $7.50 an hour for non-tipped employees. Starting July 1, it would go up $0.50 to $8.00 an hour, then on January 1, 2014, it would go up another $0.50 to $8.50 an hour.

"I want us to have a least somewhat of a consistent type paying structure, whether it's in the unincorporated county or in the city of Albuquerque," said De La Cruz.

Unlike Albuquerque’s increase to $3.83/hr. for tipped employees, tipped workers in the county would stay at $2.13/hr.

And if the minimum wage is $8.00 or $8.50, if a tipped employee doesn’t make that amount between their wage and tips, the employer has to step in and pay the difference.

As for non-compliance, the county attorney says legally, he can’t take up cases.

They are private cause of action cases, said Randy Autio, Bernalillo County Attorney.

"My part would be if I get a call from someone I would contact the employer. Send them a letter, letting them know they're in violation of the law and they are subject to a suit," he said.

If a business is located in Albuquerque, it cannot choose to comply with Bernalillo County’s minimum wage instead. It must comply with the city.

Johnson and Commissioner Lonnie Talbert unsuccessfully sought to defer the proposal during the meeting.

Johnson said the county should wait to see whether the state’s minimum wage increase proposal will go through before voting in a wage of its own.

At least one county leader says this wage increase would be foolish.

"It's not supposed to be a life-wage. It's supposed to be a beginning of life wage. You need to move forward beyond these entry-level positions," said Johnson.

If the minimum wage increase is approved by the board and an employer doesn’t comply, it would be up to the employee to file a civil lawsuit.

A final vote on the minimum wage increase proposal will take place in one month.