Increasing the Enforcement of Wage Theft Laws

Wage theft – the underpayment or nonpayment of wages – is a significant problem in New Mexico. A 2012 study showed that 22% of Mexican immigrants working in New Mexico experienced wage theft at least once in the previous year, and every year hundreds of workers file wage claims with the New Mexico Labor Relations Division, the state agency charged with enforcement of the New Mexico wage payment laws. However, even though New Mexico law contains a comprehensive enforcement scheme to protect workers against wage theft, for years the Department of Workforce Solutions’ Labor Relations Division illegally rejected workers’ wage claims and failed to take enforcement action, depriving low-income New Mexicans of wages earned.

In January 2017, to require the Labor Relations Division to enforce New Mexico’s wage payment laws, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a lawsuit on behalf of four victims of wage theft and workers’ rights organizations El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFÉ), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), and Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

In December 2017, the parties to the case reached a groundbreaking settlement agreement that ensures the Labor Relations Division will carry out its duty to enforce New Mexico’s anti-wage theft laws and hold employers accountable when they violate these laws. Under the settlement:

  • Workers whose cases the LRD rejected for illegal reasons in the past will have the right to a re-investigation of their cases.
  • The LRD will investigate all wage claims, regardless of their dollar value.
  • The LRD will take enforcement action on wage claims going back three years, or longer if the violation is part of a continuing course of conduct.
  • Employers who fail to pay minimum or overtime wages must pay damages to wage claimants, calculated at three times the value of the unpaid wages, when a case reaches the administrative enforcement phase and is not resolved in settlement.
  • The LRD will no longer close wage claims for impermissible procedural reasons.
  • The LRD will investigate all cases according to a publicly-available Investigations Manual.
  • The LRD will evaluate cases for workplace-wide enforcement action.
  • The LRD will provide language access services to all wage claimants who need it.
  • The LRD will inform workers of their rights under the agreement, including how to file an unpaid wage claim and request re-opening of an old wage claim, through several means of public notice, including website revisions, radio and social media.

See Our Resources below to read the Settlement Agreement (Settlement Agreement-Olivas et al v. New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions December 2017), the parties’ joint motion for class certification and approval of the settlement agreement and the complaint (Complaint Olivas v Bussy January 2017).

Information about the re-filing procedure for wage claimants whose cases were illegally closed is available on the Labor Relations Division website.

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