Bernalillo County passes minimum wage increase

Posted at: 04/23/2013 10:13 PM
Updated at: 04/23/2013 10:21 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Bernalillo County Commissioners approved a dollar increase Tuesday night.

It will bring the wage to $8.50 an hour, the same as Albuquerque’s.

Commissioners heard from the public one last time before voting on a new minimum wage for the county.

About 40 people signed up to speak at the meeting Tuesday afternoon.

For some, it was a last ditch effort.

"We need to keep jobs growing and this type of ordinance will kill jobs,” said Larry Sonntag who recently moved his management consulting business from Albuquerque to Bernalillo County. Sonntag says he already pays his employees above minimum wage.

Community activities and those directly affected spoke in favor of the dollar increase.

"It's not even living it's just surviving. And with a kid and a family it's just surviving," Mary Molina told commissioners. Molina says she is between jobs right now.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a small business owner who strongly opposes any increase, asked the embattled owner of Route 66 Malt Shop to speak.

"My wife has a restaurant,” said Eric Szeman of the restaurant he also owns. “City raised the minimum wage, she did the numbers, payroll went from $3,600 to almost $5,00. She was not able to pay that. Consequently she didn't pay that. She's now being sued by the city. Are you going to put her in jail because she can't pay the wage,” he asked the county.

Several efforts to make changes to annual cost of living increases starting in 2015, by the commission’s two Republicans (Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert) failed to sway the majority.

The minimum wage increase passed on a 3-2 vote, along party lines.

There are about 1,400 businesses in the unincorporated area of the county.

The effects of Tuesday’s decision are yet to be seen, but Commissioner Johnson predicts businesses will only suffer.

"I think what you'll see is businesses like you've seen in Albuquerque start to reduce hours, start to lay off people and more importantly stop hiring new people," he said.

The dollar increase will be introduced in two increments.

A $0.50 increase will take effect July 1, 2013.

Another $0.50 increase will take effect January 1, 2014.

However, tipped workers will not see a wage increase.

Their hourly wage will continue at $2.13 an hour plus tips.

But if a tipped employee doesn’t make the minimum wage ($8.00/hr. or $8.50/hr.) between the base wage ($2.13/hr.) plus tips, the employer will have to step in and pay the difference.

This ordinance also differs from the city’s minimum wage in that the county says legally it cannot get involved in lawsuits against employers who don’t comply.