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NM faces backlog of wage claims

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico has a backlog of about 1,900 claims of wage theft to resolve – a figure the state’s labor department aims to cut in half by the end of the year.

Bill McCamley, secretary for the Department of Workforce Solutions, told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency has ramped up its training of employers to ensure they understand their responsibilities under New Mexico’s wage laws.

He is also seeking legislative approval to hire two more investigators – in addition to six already on staff – to help work through the backlog of wage-theft claims. His goal is to reduce the backlog to 800 pending minimum-wage claims by the end of the year.

Many of the cases, McCamley said, involve the employees “who can least afford it” – low-income workers in restaurants, home health agencies and agriculture.

“If you’re not being paid the minimum wage,” he said, “you are being stolen from.”

The request for more investigators comes as New Mexico increased its basic minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour Jan. 1 – the first increase in more than a decade. Under legislation approved in 2019, the statewide minimum wage will climb to $12 by 2023.

A coalition of groups that advocate for worker rights – including the New Mexico Center on Law and others – urged lawmakers to approve new investigators and an attorney to enforce the minimum wage law.

The coalition said some workers have been waiting more than eight years for the state to recover their wages.

Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney for Somos un Pueblo Unido, an advocacy group that’s part of the coalition, said the Department of Workforce Solutions has made significant progress over the last year.

“But the backlog persists, and it’s enormous,” she said. “We are concerned if there are going to be sufficient resources to eliminate it.”

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee tentatively approved the request Wednesday for two more investigators and a supervisor in the Department of Workforce Solutions. But the panel is still working on the broader budget package for the department.

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