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.

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.

Bill guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers awaits governor’s signature

SANTA FE— Today, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 85, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo, which would ensure 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. The bill will now go to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for approval.

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, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

“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. “SB 85 eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico’s labor protections so people doing some of the toughest jobs like caring for our loved ones and cleaning our houses are treated fairly, and can seek recourse when they are not.”

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. The New Mexico Legislature has recognized that it’s time to ensure all workers, including people who work hard in other people’s homes, are guaranteed fundamental labor protections just like everyone else.

“We are optimistic that Governor Lujan Grisham will sign SB 85 into law, guaranteeing domestic workers are no longer ignored in the eyes of the law,” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Cleaning houses and taking care of elderly people or children demands dedication, time, and experience. The people who are in these life-saving roles deserve our respect and the same protections as all other workers.”

Federal law has since eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers, but without state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes are not protected and may be subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations. If domestic workers were covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions would investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

Tipped workers like me deserve a raise, too

By Paloma Mexika, New Mexico Center On Law And Poverty Communications Associate
(This op-ed appeared in the Albuquerque Journal)

Every worker should be paid a livable wage, but the Albuquerque Journal would have you believe that servers will lose our entire livelihood if the minimum wage is raised. They paint a picture of restaurants without servers, and of diners ordering at counters, picking up their own food and drinks and busing their own tables.

Until very recently, I depended on tips for years. In addition to my base wage, my tips put me just above the poverty line and barely afforded me the cost of living in Albuquerque.

The minimum wage has not been changed in New Mexico for a decade, but a bill to increase it statewide is making its way through the Legislature. 

House Bill 31 would raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $12 by mid-2021 and tie further increases to inflation. It also adjusts the “tip credit” that allows employers to pay tipped employees $2.13 an hour as long as their tips bring them up to the minimum wage. HB 31 would make the tip credit 30 percent of the prevailing minimum wage.

The Journal claims that increasing the minimum wage and adjusting the tip credit will force restaurants to shut down or drastically reduce service. Really? Do opponents of the increase really advocate for a business model predicated on paying servers only $2.13 an hour out of business revenue? How do restaurants adjust when other fixed prices go up like gas, electricity, food or alcohol?

As seen in other states that have increased or removed the tip credit, the restaurant industry did not change and is healthy and expanding. When low-wage workers like myself are able to earn a livable income and have even a little bit of spending money and free time, we go out to eat and shop at mom-and-pop locally owned businesses. 

The higher wages go right back into our local economy, and as a generous tipper myself, I hope employers are paying a livable wage so that my tip is just extra for a job well done.

The Journal claims that going out to eat would suddenly become so drastically unattractive that the service industry as we know it would cease to exist if tipped employees are paid a livable wage. When 

Albuquerque increased tipped employees’ sub-minimum wage, it didn’t devastate the restaurant industry. Our tips didn’t change, and our paychecks were actually decent.

Raising the minimum wage is better for companies in the long run even if it means a slight adjustment at first. When employees earn a livable income, they don’t have to work multiple jobs, plus they have more time and energy to put into their work.

Even if there were a tradeoff in working a few less hours, I would be willing to adjust to it because at least I would know I and my counterparts throughout the state wouldn’t have to rely entirely on inconsistent tips.

No one should be expected to work for next to nothing. But oftentimes servers don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t employers share more of the responsibility to ensure everyone is paid at least the minimum?




Wage theft lawsuit concludes in win for New Mexico workers

 

Judge approves final class action settlement agreement in lawsuit brought by low-wage workers against the Department of Workforce Solutions for failing to enforce New Mexico’s wage payment laws

SANTA FE – Today, after hearing public testimony, First Judicial District Court Judge David K. Thomson approved a class action settlement agreement between workers and workers’ rights organizations and the Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) that ensures state government will carry out its duty to enforce New Mexico’s strong anti-wage theft laws and hold employers accountable when they violate these laws.

“This is a victory for low-wage workers and proof that when we come together, we can hold powerful institutions accountable,” said Jose “Pancho” Olivas, a member of Somos Gallup, Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s membership team in McKinley County and lead plaintiff in the complaint. “For too long wage thieves were let off the hook. Because of this settlement, DWS will not only enforce our 2009 anti-wage theft law but will do more to ensure workers have a fair shot at recouping their stolen wages.”

The class action settlement agreement is a win for New Mexico workers and is the result of years of work by the workers and workers’ rights organizations who advocated for passage of a 2009 law imposing stronger anti-wage theft protections and who filed a 2017 lawsuit to require DWS to enforce those protections.

“We all deserve to be treated fairly by our employers and paid for every hour that we work,” said Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “DWS diligently worked with us on this settlement agreement to make sure that hardworking people who experience violations of New Mexico’s wage payment laws can access their legal right to an investigation of their claims and recover wages owed.”

“In 2009, low-wage workers came together to strengthen protections against wage theft in New Mexico,” said Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney with Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s Worker Center and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “This legislation passed both chambers with a wide margin because wage theft hurts everyone, workers, law-abiding businesses and local economies.  But our laws are only as good as the appropriate government agencies are willing to enforce them. This settlement sends a message that enforcement should be a priority.”

Now that the court has issued final approval of the settlement agreement, DWS will begin accepting requests from workers to re-investigate wage claims that DWS did not initially accept or correctly investigate. This includes workers who experienced the following problems:

  • DWS rejected or returned the claim form without investigating the claim;
  • DWS rejected, closed, or incompletely investigated the wage claim because of an unlawful $10,000 cap or one-year time limit;
  • DWS made a decision in favor of the employer for an improper jurisdictional reason;
  • DWS closed the wage claim after the employee or employer missed a deadline or hearing.

“When my sister and I went to the Department of Workforce Solutions to file our wage claims, we experienced problems communicating with the people in this office because they did not provide translation services,” said Sabina Armendariz, a low-wage immigrant worker, single mother, and member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Now, all Spanish speakers will receive equal access to DWS services. This settlement agreement is an example of what can happen when low-wage workers organize to confront labor abuses and work to hold accountable the very government institutions entrusted with enforcing the laws. We encourage other workers to come forward and present their cases.”

Several workers plan on filing their wage theft complaints with DWS after the hearing.

“I look forward to filing my wage theft complaint along with three of my co-workers,” said Yesenia Sanchez, mother of three children and a member Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s United Worker Center. “I am happy to know that our complaints will be taken seriously and not be turned away.”

Beginning on March 16, DWS will also take several steps to notify workers about their rights, including running radio ads in English and Spanish, providing information about the wage claim process on the homepage of the DWS website, mailing notice to the class with instructions about the right to request a re-investigation, and posting notices in all DWS offices statewide.

The case, Olivas v. Bussey, was filed in January 2017 by 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. The plaintiffs claimed that DWS had failed to investigate and resolve wage claims concerning violations of New Mexico’s wage payment laws.

Plaintiff workers and organizations and DWS filed a joint motion on December 20, 2017 in the First Judicial District Court asking Judge Thomson to approve the class action settlement agreement.

“Language barriers should not be a reason why New Mexican workers suffer from wage theft. People with limited English language access should be kept fully informed by state government agencies such as DWS and should not have additional limitations when filing or pursuing wage theft claims. Our message is loud and clear; we will not rest until we end wage theft and labor abuses in New Mexico,” said Javier Castillo Chavez, a low-wage immigrant worker and member of El Centro who’s wage claim case was successful thanks to the new DWS regulations put in place because of the class action settlement agreement.

In addition to re-investigating prior wage claims and notifying workers of their rights, DWS has also implemented the following policies to end the practices challenged in the lawsuit:

  • LRD investigates all wage claims, regardless of their dollar value;
  • LRD takes 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;
  • LRD no longer closes wage claims for impermissible procedural reasons; and
  • LRD provides language access services to all wage claimants who need it by requesting each claimant’s language preference on the claim form, providing interpretation in each telephonic and in-person interaction, translating all form letters and claim forms into Spanish, allowing claimants to fill out claim forms in any language, and offering an interpreter to anyone who telephones the agency.

In addition, LRD has revamped its policies and procedures so that the agency is in compliance with the New Mexico wage laws. This includes the adoption of a publicly-available investigations manual that lays out how LRD enforces the law, which LRD and attorneys for the plaintiffs are writing together. Attorneys for the plaintiffs will also review worker case files to identify wage claims that LRD may consider for workplace-wide enforcement action.

People who experienced a problem with a wage claim at DWS should request a re-investigation or contact:

The notice of rights, claim form, and instructions for requesting a re-investigation will be available in a link from the DWS website homepage on or before March 16.

Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is lead counsel on a legal team that includes the Center’s Gail Evans, Stephanie Welch, and Juan Martinez, Santa Fe attorney Daniel Yohalem, and Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

 

Proposed Albuquerque sick leave bill would benefit few workers

ALBUQUERQUE—A coalition of workers and policy advocates said today that the sick days bill introduced by City Councilors Ken Sanchez and Don Harris would leave thousands of employees unable to earn sick time to care for themselves.

“This bill would still force thousands of working families in Albuquerque to choose between a paycheck and taking earned time off to get well or care for a sick family member,” said Veronica Serrano, a member of the Healthy Workforce coalition. “I couldn’t earn sick leave at my most recent job, and this bill would do nothing to change that because any business with fewer than 50 employees won’t have to offer earned sick time–that’s 90 to 95 percent of all employers in Albuquerque.”

The coalition noted that the proposal also doesn’t cover employees who work fewer than 20 hours. “This bill would actually encourage employers to offer fewer hours to their workers,” said Ms. Serrano. “That’s not healthy for our communities.”

According to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the law would be the weakest sick leave bill in the country. “No sick time law in the country contains as many loopholes and exclusions as this one, or makes it so difficult to earn and use sick leave,” said Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney at the Center. “Worse, this proposal completely excludes people who must take care of sick parents, grandchildren, siblings, and other relatives. And the weak enforcement provision sends a message to unscrupulous employers that they can violate this law with no consequences.”

Despite their misgivings about the proposed ordinance, coalition members said they are ready to work on improving it. “We look forward to discussing the needs of our hardworking families with Councilors Sanchez, Harris, and the rest of the Council, so that we can create a sick leave bill that does not divide us between those who can earn sick time and those who cannot,” said Ms. Serrano.

Court Rejects Challenge to Earned Sick Leave Law

Ruling Ensures Healthy Workforce Ordinance Will Appear on October 3 Municipal Ballot

 

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Today, in a victory for Albuquerque’s working families, Honorable Judge Shannon Bacon threw out a challenge by business lobbyists to the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance. Today’s ruling ensures that voters will have an opportunity to vote on earned sick days this fall at the October 3, 2017 municipal election.

“Low wage and immigrant workers play a critical role in Albuquerque’s economy, yet they are disproportionately impacted by attacks on minimum wage and efforts to undermine the proposed paid sick leave ordinance,” said Marco Nunez, Worker Justice Coordinator, EL CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos.  “This victory sends a clear message to corporate interests that prioritize profit over the well-being of our families that our communities will not stand by idly as they attack and chip away at workers’ rights.”

Judge Bacon also upheld voters’ right to vote on citizen-initiated ballot initiatives, rejecting the business interests’ attempt to strike the voters’ democratic rights from the Albuquerque City Charter.

“Albuquerque residents’ right to directly participate in the lawmaking process is a cornerstone of our local democracy,” said Tim Davis, an attorney with the New Mexico Center in Law and Poverty, who argued the case for the community organizations. “Today’s ruling protects this right from attacks by well-connected business interests.”

The ruling arose out of a lawsuit filed against the city by business lobbyists who wanted to remove the earned sick ordinance from the October 2017 ballot. They also sought to cut the minimum wage, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2012, from $8.80 to $7.50. Community organizations and voters who support both laws intervened in the case to defend them.

The judge also tossed out the challenge to the Albuquerque minimum wage in an oral ruling from the bench yesterday, ruling that the results of the 2012 general election are final and cannot be challenged now. She issued a written opinion today reaffirming her oral ruling. Together with her ruling on the Healthy Workforce Ordinance, today’s rulings dismiss all claims in the lawsuit on both ordinances.

The earned sick leave ballot initiative, if passed, would give workers the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Local community organizations have been working to educate the public on the earned sick leave initiative since last summer, when over 24,000 voters in Albuquerque signed the petition in support of it.

The Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance can be read online here: https://healthyworkforceabq.org/full-language-of-ordinance/

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Court Upholds Albuquerque Minimum Wage Law

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Honorable Judge Shannon Bacon threw out a challenge to the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance today, ruling that the results of the 2012 general election are final and cannot be challenged now.

“It’s astonishing and disheartening that business groups were trying to cut hard working New Mexicans’ wages by nearly $3,000 a year,” said Trae Buffin who is a member of OLÉ. “I’m overjoyed that the court agreed with the people and that the minimum wage is safe in Albuquerque.”

The ruling arose out of a lawsuit filed against the city by business lobbyists attempting to end minimum wage, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2012, and to remove the earned sick days ordinance from the October 2017 ballot. Community organizations and voters who support the law intervened in the case to defend the ordinance.

The earned sick leave ballot initiative, if passed, would give workers the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Local community organizations have been working to educate the public on the earned sick leave initiative since last summer, when over 24,000 voters in Albuquerque signed the petition in support of it.

Judge Bacon has not yet ruled on the earned sick days initiative, but indicated at the hearing that she would do so soon.

The Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance can be read online here: https://healthyworkforceabq.org/full-language-of-ordinance/

 

 

Healthy Workforce ABQ Asks for Emergency Court Order to Prevent City from Using Illegal Ballot

Advocates Say Voters Deserve Fair Election on Earned Sick Days Question

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Late Thursday, advocates for the passage of an earned sick leave law in the City of Albuquerque filed an emergency motion in Second Judicial District Court to prevent the City Clerk from using an illegal ballot for the October 3 election.

The Albuquerque City Council decided in a July 10 meeting to print the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance (HWO) on the official ballot without a summary, and the City Clerk intends to print it in 7-point font. Healthy Workforce ABQ, OLÉ, and Albuquerque residents ask the court to ensure Albuquerque voters have a fair election by ordering the use of a ballot that they can read and understand.

“The city is attempting to block Albuquerque voters’ right to enact direct legislation,” said Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney on the case from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The city government insists on a ballot that is misleading and confusing. We are asking the court to protect the integrity of the 2017 election.”

The emergency motion argues that because the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance will only fit on the ballot in an illegible and illegally-small font size — approximately 7-point font — the City Clerk should place a legible summary on the ballot and provide a legible, large-text copy of the full ordinance in each voting booth so that voters can read both documents. The city uses the same practice for bond questions.

According to federal voting systems guidelines adopted in Section 1-9-14 of the New Mexico Election Code, election ballots must be printed at a minimum of 8.5-point font or larger to ensure that voters with poor vision can read their ballots.

In their July meeting, the City Council also voted to include an advisory question on the ballot that uses partisan language to advocate against the HWO. The emergency motion argues that this is illegal because the City Charter and the New Mexico Constitution do not permit the Council to use a deceptive workaround to defeat a ballot initiative they do not like. The advocates are also asking the court to order that ballot question to be removed.

The emergency motion can be found here.