Bernalillo County passes paid time off law!

By Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney for Workers’ Rights 

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners passed a new law on Tuesday that ensures hardworking people don’t have to choose between a paycheck and taking time off to care for themselves or a loved one.

Unfortunately, most workers making low wages have no paid sick leave. If they or a family member become ill, they have to choose between getting paid and getting better. Those who can least afford to lose any income are the most likely to have to face that choice. 

Starting next July, people working in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County will have the right to 24 hours of paid leave a year. The number of hours of leave will increase each year until it reaches 56 in 2022. The ordinance is clear, simple, and easy to implement. It is the result of years of advocacy by workers, parents, survivors of domestic violence, medical professionals, teachers, and caregivers.

Unfortunately the ordinance doesn’t address the great need for paid sick leave in the City of Albuquerque. 35% of workers in Albuquerque lack access to paid sick leave.

That is about 106,000 people who work and live in Albuquerque and who cannot take time off to get medical care, heal, escape an abusive situation, or care for a loved one without losing much-needed income and risking being fired.

This is not just a local problem, it’s a statewide problem. New Mexico has the highest percentage among U.S. states of workers without access to paid sick leave. Thankfully Bernalillo County officials are trying to do something about it. Now the city, and the state, should follow their lead.

Bernalillo County Commission to Vote on Paid Sick Leave/Paid Time Off Ordinance

Bernalillo County– The Bernalillo County Commission will vote on a paid sick leave/paid time off ordinance Tuesday, August 20 at 4:00 p.m. in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers at One Civic Plaza. Supporters and advocates of paid sick days will be attending to share testimonies in support of having paid sick leave for hardworking families and urge commissioners to vote “Yes” to help build a thriving community and economy. 

WHAT: County Commission to Vote on Bernalillo County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

WHEN: Tuesday, August 20, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers, One Civic Plaza, Albuquerque, NM

WHO: Supporters and Advocates of paid sick leave

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Supporters of the paid sick leave ordinance includes: AARP, Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, Equality New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Working Families Party, OLÉ, Strong Families New Mexico, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Survivors of Domestic Violence to Hold Press Conference in Support of Paid Sick Leave Bill

Albuquerque, NM– Survivors of domestic violence and advocates for paid sick leave will hold a press conference in support of Bernalillo County’s paid sick leave ordinance on Monday, August 19 at 11:30 a.m. at Enlace Comunitario (2425 Alamo Ave SE). Supporters of paid sick days will be attending to share their testimonies of how this bill will help others in similar situations and how paid sick leave can be considered as paid “safe time”.

WHAT: Survivors of domestic violence share why paid sick leave can help others

WHEN: Monday, August 19, 2019 at 11:30 a.m.

WHERE: Enlace Comunitario, 2425 Alamo Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 

WHO: Domestic violence survivors and advocates for paid sick leave

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Supporters of the paid sick leave ordinance includes: AARP, Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, Equality New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Working Families Party, OLÉ, Strong Families New Mexico, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

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

Law guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers goes into effect today

SANTA FE—A law goes into effect today that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

Under the Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, domestic and home care workers are now covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

“Talking with domestic workers, we have found that this is a growing industry and many of these workers in the past didn’t have anywhere to go to when they have been the victims of wage theft,” said Hilaria Martinez, a community organizer for El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos.

“Our domestic worker committee has found that cases like these keep increasing, especially to women in this field and other minorities in our community,” Martinez added. “Therefore, after years of hard work and community organizing, I am glad to see this law go into effect to deter workplace exploitation for domestic workers and for them to finally be valued like any other worker in our state.”

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically had very few options when they were not paid.

The Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo, ended the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

New Mexico law generally requires employers to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, keep records, and pay employees in full and on time. However, like other wage laws enacted in the 1930s, it excluded large categories of work typically performed by women and people of color from the minimum wage and other protections.

Federal law eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers years ago, but lacking state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes were not protected and were subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations.

“The Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act was a culmination of years of work, including listening sessions with caregivers. The New Mexico Legislature recognized that it’s high time to ensure all workers, including people who work hard in other people’s homes, are guaranteed fundamental labor protections just like everyone else,” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Domestic workers’ historical exclusion from the federal labor laws is an ugly vestige of slavery. The federal government righted that wrong years ago. We are overjoyed that today New Mexico has finally done so as well.”

In the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, the New Mexico Caregivers Coalition successfully spearheaded Senate Joint Memorial 6 that created a statewide taskforce to recommend short-term and long-term actions to promote a stable and growing workforce to meet the needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on these services in order to live independently in their communities.

“There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities,” said Alicia Saenz a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “It is invisible work and historically, our work has not been given the value it deserves. I am proud to provide these services to my community. The implementation of this law today is a step in the right direction to give domestic workers the respect and dignity they deserve.”

“This law was the result of people doing some of the toughest jobs—like caring for others’ loved ones—coming from around the state, sharing their stories, and speaking up for fairness,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Domestic and home care workers are now entitled to the state minimum wage and can file a claim with DWS when they are not properly paid.”  

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The New Mexico Caregivers Coalition advocates for direct care workers’ education, training, benefits, wages and professional development so they may better serve people who are elderly and those with disabilities.

El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos is a grassroots, Latino immigrant-led organization based in Central New Mexico that works with Latino immigrant communities and allies to defend, strengthen, and advance the rights of our community.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

Sick Leave Ordinance Introduced at the Bernalillo County Commission

Low-wage workers, community leaders applaud first great step to building a stronger economy by ensuring our workers are healthy

Albuquerque, N.M.– During a packed meeting Tuesday night, the Bernalillo County Commission introduced a proposed paid sick leave ordinance for Bernalillo County —a step supporters of the ordinance say will support families succeed in building thriving communities.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins introduced the Bernalillo County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance as a way to alleviate the challenges working families face when forced to choose between losing a day’s pay or going to work sick because of the need to care for themselves or for their loved ones.

The proposed ordinance does the following:

  • The ordinance applies to any worker employed at least 56 hours per year at a business with two or more employees, the county, or a nonprofit with two or more employees in Bernalillo County.
  • It allows workers to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.
    • Employers are not required to provide more than a total of 56 hours per year.
    • Paid sick leave can be used starting on the 90th calendar day after they are hired.
    • Allows up to 56 hours of unused sick time carry over into the next year
  • Allows employers who currently have a PTO policy that exceeds the minimal requirements of this ordinance to continue with their current policy.

The following conditions exempt a business from providing paid sick leave:

  • Businesses or employers with only one employee
  • New business startups that obtain an exemption for their first year of business
  • And family-owned and operated businesses that employ only family members

“The introduction of a possible paid sick leave program in Bernalillo County makes sense because a strong economy begins with every worker in our community having the ability to care for their health and well being,” said Maggie Hart-Stebbins, Bernalillo County Commissioner. “Everyone gets sick and everyone should be able to take time to care for themselves or their families. Providing earned sick days protects the economic stability of working families and the public health across our community.”

According to a study by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, in the city of Albuquerque alone, 36% of private-sector workers have no paid sick leave and that 90% of those with household incomes less than $15,000 presently do not have paid sick leave.

The following are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations from across bernalillo County who are in support of the ‘Paid Sick Leave’ ordinance:

“Family stability comes in a variety of ways: good public education, good paying jobs, and a support system to get us through unpredictable life moments, said Trae Buffin, member of OLÉ. “Paid Sick Leave is about putting our New Mexican families’ needs first and providing them the support they need to build thriving communities.”

“Unfortunately not every family or worker has a strong support system to go through sickness, family emergencies, or even protecting their own lives and those of their children,” said Mary Ann Maestas, Member, NM Working Families Party. “Today’s introduced proposal will alleviate this challenge by allowing workers to accrue paid time that can be used to care for those “life moments” while not losing a day pay or even their jobs.”

“Families shouldn’t have to worry about shattering their family budget and getting buried under healthcare costs because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay,” said Hilda Gomez, low-wage worker and member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Having paid sick leave ensures we take care of the most integral part of our state economy: OUR WORKERS! Because when our workers are ok, our economy is ok, and we increase our opportunity to make our state thrive.”

The proposed ‘paid sick leave’ ordinance is expected to be voted on June 25, 2019.

Legislative Wrap Up 2019

Dear friends,

This legislative session was a turning point for New Mexico. The efforts of the Center on Law and Poverty and our partners paved the way for historic changes for our state and started long overdue dialogue about the bold changes that must be made for children and families. This could not have happened without you! THANK YOU for the countless phone calls, emails to your legislators, testimony in committee hearings, and sharing of information with your networks and through social media.

We have much to celebrate together and are especially proud to share several major victories.

Our advocacy efforts and expert testimony were instrumental in achieving:

Historic wins for workers in New Mexico
Domestic and home care workers are now protected by basic labor laws. Along with our partners, we successfully eliminated outdated, discriminatory practices in our state so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

After a decade of stagnant wages, hard working New Mexicans will finally get a raise. Hundreds of workers from across New Mexico mobilized in support of a wage increase this session. It was a long and challenging fight, but starting in January 2020, the state minimum wage will be raised to $9 an hour and increase annually until reaching $12 an hour in 2023. This will directly impact 150,901 workers in our state—nearly 20 percent of the workforce.

Loopholes closed in small loans laws
Everyone should be able to understand the terms of their loans, especially when these loans are taken out from storefront lenders. Our advocacy with our partners led to significantly more accountability and transparency by mandating that lenders report relevant data to the state and by aligning our small loan laws so all New Mexico families receive fairer loans.

Public education a top priority
After winning the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling on behalf of families and school districts, we joined with education, tribal and community leaders, and students to form the Transform Education NM coalition and used this historic opportunity to bring education to the forefront this legislative session. New Mexico’s education system must be rooted in a multicultural framework for our diverse student body, and our coalition won much needed funding for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction in rural areas. Overall, New Mexico saw an increase in education funding, and teachers got long overdue raises. However, we still have a long way to go, and we will not stop until every child has the education they need to succeed and are entitled to by the New Mexico Constitution. 

Progress toward innovative and affordable health coverage
Dozens of families, healthcare professionals, and advocates joined the NM Together for Healthcare campaign to work tirelessly for a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who struggle to afford the outrageous costs of private insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid. The Human Services Department will now receive funding to further study and begin the administrative development of a public option plan, including pursuing federal funding to help pay for it.

The path ahead
We’re focused on New Mexico’s future, and together with you, we will continue to push for complete transformation of our education system, expansion of early childhood education—including pre-K, childcare assistance and home visiting services—better pay and working conditions for workers, financial and food security, and access to healthcare for all of our families.

Sincerely,

Sireesha Manne                                                  
Executive Director

Bill guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers signed into law

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections. Senate Bill 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, is sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo.

“This is a historic win for domestic and home care workers,” said Carlota Muñoz, a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “During my employment at a cleaning service company, I stopped receiving payments for the hours I was working. I felt helpless and felt my work was not being given any respect. I am proud of the services I provide for my community, and I am glad to see this law go into effect that will provide workers like me more protections and assurance that their work will be valued like any other.”

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically have very few options when they’re not paid. SB 85 ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

“We are proud of the work that domestic workers provide,” said Alicia Saenz, also a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities. It is invisible work, fraught with exploitation such as wage theft, and historically, our work has not been given the value it deserves. SB 85 is a step in the right direction to remedy that and to extend protections to enable us to assert our rights. We will continue to organize domestic workers and low-wage workers until all workers are treated with the dignity and respect that we deserve.”

New Mexico law generally requires employers to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, keep records, and pay employees in full and on time. However, like other wage laws enacted in the 1930s, it excluded large categories of work typically performed by women and people of color from the minimum wage and other protections.

“Domestic workers and home care workers have difficult and important jobs that we depend on,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “This legislation eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are treated fairly and can seek recourse when they are not.”

Federal law eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers years ago, but lacking state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes were not protected and subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations.

With the passage of SB 85 into law, domestic and home care workers will now be covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

“The New Mexico Legislature recognized that it’s high time to ensure all workers, including people who work hard in other people’s homes, are guaranteed fundamental labor protections just like everyone else,” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Domestic workers’ historical exclusion from the federal labor laws is an ugly vestige of slavery. The federal government righted that wrong years ago. We are overjoyed that today New Mexico has finally done so as well.”

The New Mexico Senate passed SB 85 on February 18. The House of Representatives passed it on March 12.

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The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

The New Mexico Caregivers Coalition advocates for direct care workers’ education, training, benefits, wages and professional development so they may better serve people who are elderly and those with disabilities.

El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos is a grassroots, Latino immigrant-led organization based in Central New Mexico that works with Latino immigrant communities and allies to defend, strengthen, and advance the rights of our community.

Action Alert – Ask governor to sign bill ensuring domestic workers are protected by New Mexico’s wage protections!

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has until noon Friday to sign a bill into law that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

Please call her TODAY and ask her to sign Senate Bill 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act

There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities. SB 85 eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and working in our homes, are treated fairly and can seek recourse when they are not.

SB 85 ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically have very few options when they’re not paid. If SB 85 is signed into law, domestic and home care workers will be covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

Call the governor now at (505) 476-2200 and tell her that ALL workers deserve to be treated fairly and to please sign SB 85.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Welch

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Workers’ Rights Supervising Attorney

New Mexico workers celebrate statewide minimum wage increase

SANTA FE–On Monday, dozens of New Mexico workers and their families gathered to celebrate as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a proposal that would increase the state minimum wage for the first time in over ten years.

Senate Bill 437, approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, progressively increases the minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 per hour by 2023. Starting January 2020, the state minimum wage would be raised to $9, $10.50 in 2021, $11.50 in 2022 before settling at $12 per hour in 2023.

The newly signed law also contains the following provisions:

  • Gradually increases the “tipped credit” for tipped employees from the current $2.13 per hour to $3 per hour by 2023
  • Allows for a new sub-minimum wage for students at $8.50 per hour
  • Does not include an annual cost of living adjustment

Raising the minimum wage to $12.00/hr by 2023 would directly affect 150,901 workers or nearly 20 percent of the total workforce in the state. Directly affected workers would receive an annual increase of approximately $1,114.

A statewide minimum wage coalition mobilized hundreds of workers from across New Mexico during the session in support of a wage increase.

Below are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations across New Mexico in celebration of the statewide minimum wage increase:

“Last month the legislature did it’s part to increase family economic security in New Mexico and today the governor fulfilled her gubernatorial campaign promise to raise the state’s minimum wage to get workers–who are the backbone of our state– one step closer to a livable wage,” said Margarita Castruita Flores a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “With a salary of $12 an hour I could earn approximately $112 more per week, something that could help me pay for one of my utility bills, which I have trouble paying with my current wage. We are proud of the contributions low-wage workers like me provide to our state and we will continue our fight to ensure ALL workers in New Mexico have the opportunity to thrive.”

“Today is a victory for hard working New Mexicans who deserve a raise. We thank the Governor for signing this bill into law,” said J.D. Mathews, Political Director for New Mexico Working Families. “This is an important step towards economic security and ending poverty in our state. Our commitment to all workers receiving a living wage continues”.

“After ten years of wage stagnation, I am so happy to see our state finally moving in the right direction. This raise will give twelve thousand dollars to workers who seriously need and deserve it,” said Lauren Shimamoto, Albuquerque service worker and member of OLÉ. “Thank you Governor Lujan-Grisham for signing this bill, it’s a great first step towards a living wage and a thriving New Mexico.”

“When workers are compensated fairy, everyone wins,” said Marcela Diaz, Executive Director for Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “$12 per hour will go along way to helping working families, rural communities and local economies prosper. By signing this bill, Governor Lujan Grisham recognizes just how essential workers are to our state’s future.”

“Today New Mexican workers achieved a great victory. For a decade, they’ve seen their spending power decrease, as the minimum wage stayed the same and the cost of living went up,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “They deserve wages that allow them to provide for themselves and their families. They won this raise by coming together from all across the state to demand fair wages and respect for their hard work. 

*** Video and photos from the bill signing and worker-led celebration can be found here, here, here & here.