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Albuquerque’s minimum wage increases on Jan. 1

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Most of Albuquerque’s minimum-wage workers will get a 10-cent boost in pay beginning Wednesday, the start of the new year and the city’s first minimum-wage increase tied to the rate of inflation.

Starting Jan. 1, the minimum wage for most employees will climb to $8.60 an hour, a 1.2 percent increase from this year’s $8.50 requirement.

Employers who provide a certain level of health care benefits get a $1 break on the wage, so they have to pay only $7.60. The minimum for tipped employees will increase to $5.16 an hour.

Before the referendum, the city’s minimum wage was $7.50, set by the City Council in 2006. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

The newest increases are the result of a November 2012 city referendum in which about 66 percent of city voters supported an increase in the minimum wage. The ordinance includes a provision for automatic increases each year, based on inflation. The referendum came about through a provision in the City Charter that allows for voter initiatives. Supporters gathered thousands of petition signatures to force the council to either pass the ordinance or hold an election on the issue. It held an election.

Among those supporters was OLÉ (Organizers in the Land of Enchantment), a nonprofit that says it fights to help New Mexico’s workers win respect, living wages, benefits and enforcement of worker protections.

“Albuquerque added 1,200 leisure and hospitality jobs in the last year,” OLÉ President Marie Aragon said Monday. “So clearly more people have money to spend at restaurants, thanks to the minimum-wage increase.”

Groups that opposed the ordinance – including the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Restaurant Association – said the measure would hurt businesses and employees.

“In the end, higher wages mean higher prices,” said Carol Wight, chief executive officer of New Mexico Restaurant Association. “It’s a feel-good inflationary policy that doesn’t really help anyone.”

Santa Fe’s minimum wage is also increasing, but not until March 1. City spokeswoman Jodi Porter said the hourly rate required for all workers in the city limits is expected to go up by about 1.3 percent. That would add roughly 14 cents to the current $10.51 city minimum wage, for a new rate of $10.65 an hour.

The “living wage” in Santa Fe is tied to the national consumer price index and the increase would make it the second-highest in the country behind San Francisco. Whether the increase should remain tied to the CPI is an issue debated by candidates in Santa Fe’s upcoming mayoral election.

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