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Councilor open to changes in city wage law

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

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SANCHEZ: Increases need to be predictable

City Council President Ken Sanchez says he’s open to imposing limits on how much Albuquerque’s new minimum wage can increase every year.

The ordinance, approved by voters in 2012, calls for annual increases tied to changes in the Consumer Price Index. The goal is to ensure the wage keeps up with inflation.

But Sanchez, a Democrat and often a key swing vote on the council, said he’s worried about the damage that would be caused if there’s a return to double-digit inflation.

“I think there has to be some predictability for the businesses,” Sanchez said Friday in an interview.

Sanchez hasn’t made a formal proposal yet, though he has already sponsored legislation aimed at making other changes to the ordinance, centering on how it’s enforced.

No action is imminent, he said, because the city is waiting to see how a legal challenge to the ordinance turns out. The Route 66 Malt Shop, accused of failing to pay the wage, is asking the state Court of Appeals to rule that the ordinance was presented improperly to voters.

Matthew Henderson of OLÉ, an advocacy group that pushed for approval of the minimum-wage ordinance, said he would oppose adding inflation limits.

“We believe the CPI is there to guarantee that the power of the minimum wage doesn’t erode over time,” Henderson said. “… We think doing anything to limit it would be a big mistake.”

He pointed out that the minimum-wage ordinance won support from 66 percent of voters in 2012.

“We really don’t believe the council has the real moral right to be second-guessing the will of the voters, particularly at such an early stage,” Henderson said.

The 2012 ordinance boosted Albuquerque’s basic minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour, starting Jan. 1, 2013. This month, the required minimum climbed to $8.60 based on inflation of 1.2 percent.

Tipped employees get $5.16 an hour.

Sanchez said businesses shouldn’t have to worry about massive inflation. In 1980, for example, inflation averaged about 14 percent.

Big increases “would be detrimental to a small business,” he said. “I think the fabric of our economy here in Albuquerque is the small businesses.”

Sanchez has a proposal before the City Council that would establish criminal penalties for employers who fail to pay the required wage. The current version of the ordinance sets out a process in which employees can sue for back wages.

But Sanchez said Friday he is open to other changes, such as, say, a 3 percent cap in CPI-driven increases.

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