Workers win wage theft fight against former owners of Kellys Brew Pub

ALBUQUERQUE—The former owners of Kellys Brew Pub and Restaurant violated Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance, Judge Benjamin Chavez of the Second Judicial District Court ruled late Friday. The court also determined that because Kellys failed to follow the rules for paying the tipped minimum wage, the former owners owed their employees the full minimum wage for those hours worked. 

Under Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance, if employers fail to pay workers their full wage, they must pay triple the wages that were withheld as well as attorneys’ fees. The business and the business owners, executives, and officers can be liable. A trial to determine the exact amount of damages and attorneys’ fees the business and its owner owe the servers is currently set for October 2019.

“This victory puts all restaurants on notice that they must pay every worker, by law, for every hour they have worked,” said Bianca Garcia, a plaintiff in the case. “The law is on the side of fair pay. Dennis and Janice Bonfantine should be ashamed of themselves for going through such extremes—trying to overturn the minimum wage law altogether—just to avoid paying back the money they took from us.”

15 servers, represented by Youtz & Valdez, P.C. and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, brought the class action lawsuit, Atyani v. Bonfantine, in April 2016 on behalf of about 150 former servers who worked at Kellys from 2013 to 2016. The lawsuit contends that after city voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative in 2012 raising the Albuquerque minimum wage, the Bonfantines “settled on an unlawful response to the wage increase: servers would pay for it themselves, out of their tips.” 

Kellys required servers to pay their employers cash each shift, calculated at two percent of their total daily sales, plus three dollars per hour they worked on the clock. After making these required payments to their employer, servers sometimes owed more in cash than they had actually earned in cash tips during the shift. When this happened, servers were required to pay the difference from their wallets or their paychecks. 

To defend against these claims, the Bonfantines argued that the Albuquerque minimum wage was invalid because it was increased through a voter initiative that put a summary of the wage increase on the 2012 ballot rather than the entire ordinance. In May 2017, the Second District Court rejected this argument, ruling that any challenge to how the 2012 election was conducted must have been made right after the election.

“Albuquerque’s minimum wage law has teeth. Unscrupulous employers who don’t pay their workers the legal wage can be sued and end up paying much more in damages than if they had just paid their employees fairly,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Workers have the right to a fair and legal wage. This includes people who work for tips.” 

“The Kellys servers showed incredible persistence in fighting the Bonfantines, who literally took their hard-earned money out of their pockets,” said Shane Youtz, an attorney at Youtz & Valdez, P.C. “We encourage every employee who is a victim of wage theft to come forward. You deserve to collect every dollar you worked for and are owed.“

Attorneys on the case are Stephanie Welch and Sovereign Hager of the Center and Shane Youtz and James Montalbano of Youtz & Valdez, P.C.

The order on Atyani v. Bonfantine can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/case-law-summary-judgement-order-atyani-v-bonfantine-2019-07-12/

The transcript of the hearing in which the judge explains his ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/transcript-atyani-v-bonfantine-hearing-ruling-only-2019-05-29/

The Atyani v. Bonfantine complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-kellys-final-2016-04-28-filed

Child care assistance hearing postponed

We did it! Thanks to all your hard work, the Children, Youth and Families Department announced yesterday that it will not cut child care assistance eligibility to 160% of the Federal Poverty Level as it proposed. It will maintain the current eligibility of 200% FPL for child care assistance contracts.

The hearing scheduled for Monday, July 8 has been postponed until further notice.

While this is great news, CYFD still requires families to pay unaffordable copays. Too many parents are forced to drop out of the child care assistance program and find cheaper⁠ and often less safe⁠ alternatives or reduce their work hours or drop out of school.

CYFD will reschedule the hearing and will continue to take public comment on this issue. Let’s keep the momentum going!

We ALL depend on child care to work or pursue an education. Thank you for submitting comments, making phone calls, and for standing with New Mexico’s parents and children!

You can read about CYFD’s announcement here.

Public hearing on cuts to CYFD’s child care assistance on Monday, July 8

SANTA FE—There is a public hearing on proposed cuts to the Children, Youth and Families Department’s Child Care Assistance program on Monday, July 8 in Santa FeCYFD’s proposed regulation changes will prevent thousands of parents who are working or in school from getting much needed child care and continue to require families to pay an unaffordable share of costs. 

The regulation would hurt hard working New Mexico families by cutting child care assistance eligibility to 160% of the Federal Poverty Level from 200%. This means fewer working families will have access to child care assistance, even though the program is one of the best work support programs available to help families exit poverty and increase financial stability.

CYFD’s proposed regulations also fail to address affordability for the child care assistance program. Unfortunately, CYFD requires low-income working families to pay an unaffordable share of their income toward copayments. The federal government has urged states to ensure affordability for child care assistance by capping the family’s share of costs at no more than 7% of their income. Under CYFD’s current copayment requirements, families often pay 10% or more. This makes it difficult for families to pay for other necessary expenses like food and housing. 

The proposed regulation and public comments on the proposed cuts can be found here: https://www.newmexicokids.org/ 

WHAT:          
Public hearing on proposed CYFD regulation that would cut eligibility to the state’s Child Care Assistance program

WHEN: 
Monday, July 8, 2019 at 11:00 am          

WHERE:          
Apodaca Hall, 1120 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87502.

WHO:             
CYFD
Families who would be impacted by the proposed cuts
Other members of the public