Last month, we celebrated at Hotel Albuquerque by raising a glass with Kim Posich. As the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s Executive Director, Kim dedicated himself to increasing opportunities for low-income New Mexicans. It was wonderful to see so many of Kim’s friends, family, and colleagues come together to recognize the inspirational leadership of our long-time Executive Director.
Thanks to everyone who attended the event!
Thanks again to our generous event sponsors!
Paul Baca Court Reporters
By Elizabeth Wagoner, Supervising Attorney for Workers’ Rights
On May 4, 2017, several community organizations filed motions to intervene and motions to dismiss in a lawsuit that corporate and industry groups filed to attempt to overturn the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance (MWO) and keep the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance off the 2017 ballot. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty represents the intervenors in this case.
The increases to the Albuquerque minimum wage passed in 2012 with the overwhelming support of Albuquerque voters. Now, almost five years later, corporate business interests seek to undercut the democratic process and invalidate the Albuquerque Minimum Wage, cutting the wages of hard working people across Albuquerque by $1.30 – from $8.80 per hour to $7.50 per hour. The corporate interests’ legal challenge to the Healthy Workforce Ordinance ballot initiative is a similarly undemocratic effort by corporations to keep Albuquerque voters, as is their right, from deciding whether workers should have the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. The corporate plaintiffs in the lawsuit do not stop there, however. They also ask this Court to take away the voters’ democratic right to propose and vote on ballot initiatives ever again.
The community organizations that fought successfully to put these important workplace rights on the ballot are now fighting once again to protect these laws. The first Motion to Dismiss asks the court to dismiss all of the challenges to the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance, and a second Motion to Dismiss asks the court to dismiss the Healthy Workforce Ordinance challenges. Both motions argue that the industry claims are flimsy, without merit, and are wholly without respect for the democratic process.
SANTA FE – Today, New Mexico’s First Judicial Court ruled that a lawsuit charging that Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) must enforce state laws protecting working people against wage theft from their employers can go forward. Today’s ruling denies DWS’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. The individuals and groups who filed the case will request a final ruling from the court this summer.
Wage theft is the illegal practice of not paying workers for all of their work, including violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, and forcing people to work off the clock.
The lawsuit, Olivas v. Bussey, was filed in January 2017 by four workers who were victims of wage theft and workers’ rights organizations El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Comunidades en Accion y de Fé (CAFÉ), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), and Somos Un Pueblo Unido. Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) is lead counsel on a legal team that includes the Center’s Gail Evans and Tim Davis, Santa Fe attorney Daniel Yohalem, and Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
“Our government should be working with us, not against us, to hold unscrupulous employers accountable when wages are stolen and our rights trampled on,” said Ibañez Guzmán. “This administration has long ignored the conditions of struggling workers in New Mexico, but our families are pushing back. It’s important that this case is moving forward so wage theft victims can be heard and the department’s disregard for the law exposed.”
“This ruling reaffirms that every hard working New Mexican – not just those with the money to hire lawyers–deserves to be paid for every hour they work,” said Wagoner. “Our state government cannot turn a blind eye when employers break laws protecting working people.”
New Mexico has some of the strongest wage enforcement laws in the country. In 2009, the legislature made them even stronger. However, DWS illegally refused to enforce these new laws and imposed onerous and arbitrary internal policies that have enabled unscrupulous employers to get away with wage theft unchecked.
“DWS’s failure to enforce New Mexico’s wage and hour laws is one more example of how hard working New Mexicans are getting the short end of the stick in our state—but they are fighting back. This case is too important to dismiss, particularly given the profound impact wage theft has on New Mexican working families. We applaud the ruling and look forward to continuing to expose systemic failures by DWS to enforce New Mexico wage and hour laws, “said Marco Nuñez, workers’ justice coordinator at El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos.
A copy of the ruling can be found here.
Background on the lawsuit:
New Mexico’s state-level protections against wage theft include: (1) Mandatory statutory damages to victims of wage theft, calculated as full back wages, plus interest, plus double damages; (2) At least a three-year statute of limitations, or longer when the violation is part of a “continuing course of conduct”; (3) A minimum wage of $7.50 and overtime pay for hours over 40 at one-and-one-half times the employee’s regular hourly rate; (4) the department must investigate and take legal action on valid and enforceable claims filed by workers who cannot afford private attorneys.
The lawsuit charges that DWS has:
▪ illegally imposed a $10,000 cap on wage theft: they do not investigate or take any enforcement action on wage claims worth $10,000 or more.
▪ imposed an illegal one-year time limit on liability for wage theft: they do not investigate or take any enforcement action on claims for back pay that go back more than one year from the date an employee files a claim, despite the N.M. Legislature’s 2009 decision to lengthen the statute of limitations for wage claims to at least three years.
▪ illegally imposed a policy against holding employers liable for any statutory damages at the administrative enforcement phase of a case, thereby eliminating the financial deterrent for engaging in wage theft, despite the Legislature’s 2009 decision to double the penalty for engaging in wage theft.
▪ adopted policies and procedures that require the permanent closure of wage claims for procedural reasons, such as when a claimant misses a 10-day deadline, without regard to the strength of the claim or whether the claimant received notice of the deadline.
The lawsuit seeks an order that the Department of Workforce Solutions must stop applying these unlawful policies, as well as an order that the Department must re-open and investigate cases impacted by these policies.
The defendants in the lawsuit are the Department of Workforce Solutions, Cabinet Secretary Celina Bussey, and Labor Relations Division Director Jason Dean.
In January, 2017, the First Judicial District Court issued a temporary restraining order requiring the Department of Workforce Solutions to accept wage claims without regard to the Department’s illegal $10,000 cap or illegal one-year lookback period and to keep records of claims impacted by these policies.
New Mexico will be forced to make tough choices under the Republican healthcare bill in Congress that slashes federal funding for Medicaid. A new study shows that the bill’s plans to reduce federal Medicaid funding would require the state to come up with an additional $427 million annually to maintain healthcare coverage for its 900,000 residents enrolled in Medicaid. If it can’t or won’t, more than 250,000 New Mexicans could lose their coverage and become uninsured.
The study, released today, was conducted by Dr. Kelly O’Donnell, an economist with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at UNM and is available here.
The bill drastically lowers the federal funding match for Medicaid expansion adults and permanently caps funding on the entire program, resulting in a loss of $11.4 billion in federal revenues and more than 30,000 jobs by 2026. It’s an understatement to say that this would devastate New Mexico’s healthcare system and economy.
The bill reneges on the federal government’s long-standing commitment to funding Medicaid. And President Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would not cut Medicaid, yet his administration has revived negotiations for the bill after it failed to garner enough votes among House Republicans last month. The latest proposal, in addition to decimating Medicaid funding, would also remove important consumer protections like allowing insurance companies to charge higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions and eliminating coverage of essential services like mental health and maternity care.
Congressman Pearce has not taken a position on the legislation. He should take a look at this study because the consequences for New Mexico will be drastic.
STOP the Attack on New Mexico’s Healthcare System! Ask Congressman Pearce to Vote NO Against the Healthcare Repeal Bill
Friends, Congress is about to make a critical vote on healthcare — This Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on the Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This bill recklessly endangers New Mexico’s healthcare system by making it even more expensive for middle class and working families to afford private healthcare coverage and by dismantling Medicaid, which covers more than 900,000 New Mexicans.
- More than 145,000 New Mexicans will lose their healthcare coverage – including 75,000 in Congressman Pearce’s district alone – mostly due to massive cuts to Medicaid, including rolling back the Medicaid Expansion and cutting federal funding support for Medicaid.
- Thousands of jobs could be lost statewide! Medicaid directly supports over 50,000 jobs in New Mexico while also providing a major payment source for our hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.
- The bill caps Medicaid funding, which will force our state to ration care or make deep cuts to healthcare coverage for New Mexicans who need it the most – children, the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income adults.
- The bill takes healthcare away from the poor while giving tax breaks to the rich, providing $275 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest households over the next ten years.
Congressman Pearce MUST hear from you TODAY! Please call his D.C. office at (202) 225-2365 and ask him to take a stand to protect our healthcare by voting NO for the healthcare repeal bill. The call will only take a minute.
Your action is needed urgently – the House and Senate just sent a tax package today to Governor Martinez to help avert more deep budget cuts that would further slash funding for our schools, healthcare and public safety agencies. New Mexico is facing school closures and further reduction to classrooms and teachers, the elimination of certain Medicaid services for low-income families and people with disabilities, and a worsening public safety crisis from under-resourcing our courts and other key agencies.
House Bill 202 makes responsible and overdue changes to the tax code, including to level the playing field for small businesses by taxing out of state internet sellers, close up tax loopholes for certain industries, and update the gas tax so the funds can be invested into our roads.
Please call the Governor’s office at 505-476-2200. Ask her to sign HB202, and not to veto any part of it. Let her know that New Mexicans will not accept more budget cuts and that you support this tax package as a fair solution that does not hurt our families. It will only take a minute to leave a message.
As many of you know, Kim Posich, the Center’s longtime Executive Director, has stepped down from his position. We would like to take the opportunity to recognize his important contributions to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the people of New Mexico. Please join us on April 18th at Hotel Albuquerque to toast Kim and thank him for his years of service.
We hope you will mark your calendars and plan to join us. Additional information will be coming soon.
A Toast to Kim Posich!
Tuesday, April 18th
NMCLP took the fight against wage theft to the courtroom today with a lawsuit against the NM Department of Workforce Solutions.
The lawsuit was filed by four workers who were victims of wage theft and workers’ rights organizations El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, NM Comunidades en Accion y de Fé (CAFÉ), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), and Somos Un Pueblo Unido. Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) is lead counsel on a legal team that includes NMCLP’s Gail Evans, Tim Davis, Santa Fe attorney Daniel Yohalem and Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
Read the filed complaint HERE.