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Union Coalition Sues Over Wages

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SANTA FE – An alliance of unions claims the state government has broken its own law by failing to pay the prevailing industry wage on public works projects.

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case June 15. It pits the New Mexico Building & Construction Trades Council against the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. But union contractors say the problem dates to former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

In a brief filed with the court, the trades council said that the way of calculating wages for public construction projects changed in 2009 when the Legislature amended the New Mexico Public Works Minimum Wage Act.

The change applies to state government construction contracts of at least $60,000. For these, contractors must pay a prevailing industry wage to their employees who construct, remodel or repair public roads or buildings.

An element of the new law allowed the state director of labor relations to establish prevailing wages by using collective bargaining agreements. Unions say the law also “clarified that fringe benefits for employees would be included in the prevailing wage.”

Richardson signed the measure, Senate Bill 33, and it became law on July 1, 2009. But, the construction trades council argues the state has ignored the law for 18 months.

The council wants to compel the state to follow the law and award it damages or costs incurred because of the lawsuit.

The state has said the collection of unions lacked standing to bring the lawsuit and that the trades council could not show that it has been injured or is in imminent harm.

The non-union Associated Contractors of New Mexico also is asking the court to throw out the lawsuit.

 

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