A Living Wage

The City Councilor For District Six Rejoices That The Minimum Wage Initiative Has Made It Onto The October Ballot

Martin Heinrich
5 min read
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In Albuquerque today, there’s cause to celebrate. Just last week, the Albuquerque City Clerk verified the 13,393 valid signatures necessary to place a minimum wage initiative on the October ballot. It is worth noting that this is approximately four times the number of valid signatures needed to run for governor of NM. In fact, because the bar is so high, this marks the first time a city ordinance has ever been successfully placed on the ballot by the citizen petition process. Congratulations.

The ordinance you’ll see on the October ballot is not identical to the Fair Wage Ordinance I sponsored at City Hall, but it would accomplish much the same end. Consequently, I am pleased to announce that Albuquerque voters are poised to raise the minimum wage to a level that begins to respect the contribution that some of our hardest working and lowest paid citizens make to Albuquerque’s economy.

Because Albuquerque is considered politically moderate, media outlets all over the world—from India to New York to Los Alamos here in New Mexico—have been monitoring the minimum wage debate closely. What the reporters and pundits realize is that if positive change can happen in Albuquerque, then it can happen almost anywhere in this nation. The world is watching as Albuquerque decides what kind of value to place on a hard day’s work.

In October, you and I as voters will have the chance to end the corporate subsidy made possible by an artificially low minimum wage. Since 1997, hard-working men and women have been making as little as $5.15 an hour. As some of you know, that provides barely enough to eat, let alone provide for a family’s education, shelter and health care. In fact, the annual salary of a minimum or low-wage worker today is so low that they are often reliant on public assistance and welfare programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. By tolerating a minimum wage set well below economic realities, taxpayers like you and I are effectively subsidizing some of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the world. Corporations who feel that it’s OK to pay less-than-livable wages.

I believe that hard work deserves fair pay. I believe that our community deserves better.

It is the responsibility of businesses to pay a fair wage, many people argue. They feel that businesses, like people, have a responsibility to the larger community. I tend to agree, although, as a city councilor, I work hard to promote local businesses and sophisticated economic development. I believe, and the data bear me out, that the two aims are not at odds. Despite the impassioned arguments to the contrary, it is possible for businesses to thrive without starving the people who work for them. In fact, most local and independent businesses wouldn’t think of paying someone $6 per hour.

This is why the Albuquerque Living Wage Initiative would give most low wage workers a modest raise, to just $7.50 an hour. If you’ve followed economic inflation over the years, you’ll know that $7.50 an hour doesn’t even fully replace the purchasing power that the minimum wage has lost over the last 35 years. But it’s a good place to start.

It’s also worth noting that the smallest local employers, those with less than 10 employees, will be exempt from the higher minimum wage under the Albuquerque Living Wage Initiative you’ll see on the October ballot.

Come October, the smart thing to do, but more importantly, the right thing to do, is make a conscious decision to value hard work in Albuquerque. To lift our communities out of poverty. To give people a fair chance to lift themselves out of poverty and use a minimum wage job as a stepping stone to future economic stability. Our communities, our city, will be better off when everyone, even the working poor, are given a fair chance.

In the end, this decision lies with you. If you are registered to vote in Albuquerque you hold the power to change history in your hands.

Many of you have told me how frustrated you felt that the City Council did not trust the voters with this decision. Now they must, and this is your chance to be heard. Between now and October, I encourage you to use your First Amendment freedoms to make a positive case for the minimum wage ballot initiative. Talk to your friends, family and neighbors.

The corporate interests that feel threatened by this legislation have already pledged to fight the minimum wage tooth and nail. As we’ve already seen, this will include negative campaigning. But no matter how well-funded the coming negative campaign will be, the truth you speak, the truth you share with people close to you, will be more powerful.

Learn more about the effort to raise the minimum wage by visiting my website at martinheinrich.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail mheinrich@cabq.gov.

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