County minimum wage ordinance squeaks by

Patrick Hoesly

The Bernalillo County Commission has approved a measure boosting the pay of those earning minimum wage in Bernalillo County. County commissioners voted 3 to 2 to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour; workers earning the state’s minimum wage are currently paid $7.50 an hour. The commissioners voted along party lines with three Democrats supporting the measure while Republicans voted against. Workers impacted by the increase will see two 50-cent hourly increases over the next year to earn $8.50 an hour by January 1, 2014.

“Bernalillo County families deserve a fair wage for a hard day’s work,” says Commissioner Art De La Cruz, who sponsored the measure. “I am committed to economic development and creating jobs, as well as livable wages for the workers that are the backbone of many successful companies and businesses here in Bernalillo County.”

But Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who voted against the measure, believes the push for a wage increase was political pandering at its finest.“The only real beneficiaries of this policy are politicians who pander to extreme interest groups and larger businesses that have the ability to survive the arbitrarily imposed costs and benefit once their smaller competitors are forced out of business,” said Johnson.

The new ordinance will apply to about 1,400 businesses in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County outside the city limits, and it's consistent with the wage increase approved by Albuquerque voters. Last November, Albuquerque residents approved a minimum wage ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, raising the city’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour.

The increase was met with controversy after Mayor Richard Berry backed City Attorney David Tourek's hesitant stance on stepping in to private sector employer-employee disputes to enforce the increase. More than a week later, Berry's administration changed its tune by filing a lawsuit against a local business refusing to honor the increase.

Tipped employees are also covered by the new county wage ordinance. If a tipped employee’s hourly rate, including tips, doesn't meet the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Tipped employees can continue to pool tips under the new ordinance. As with the city's minimum wage ordinance, the county will adjust the wage according to cost of living increase.