Wednesday, October 5, 2005
Wage Margin Fewer Than 1,500 Votes
By Winthrop Quigley
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque voters Tuesday narrowly defeated a proposed ordinance that would have raised the minimum wage in the city to $7.50 an hour for most workers.
With all 168 precincts reporting, unofficial results showed the wage ordinance lost with 42,824 voters opposed and 41,345 in favor.
Opponents, led by a coalition of business groups organized in late August, appeared to convince voters that the ordinance contained provisions so onerous that they offset any value of raising the minimum wage from its current $5.15 level.
"There were employee, employer and customer safety issues at play," said Cindy McGill, co-chairman of the Coalition to Expose Ballot Deception, one of three business organizations that organized to fight the proposal. "Voters were concerned about that."
Business groups raised about $225,000 to defeat the ordinance.
Exit polls and early returns suggested the ordinance would pass. Supporters, including labor unions and community organizers, spent Tuesday working phone banks and knocking on doors to get pro-ordinance voters to the polls. By 8 p.m. they had gathered at the Letter Carriers Union Hall near Central and Washington NE for what they called a victory party.
But by 9:30 p.m. the vote tightened, then shifted slightly against the ordinance. At one point, fewer than 100 votes separated the sides.
William Kyser, a spokesman for ACORN, which led the fight to enact the ordinance, said he didn't know why voters turned the measure down "unless they just didn't think it was necessary. We haven't discussed the possibility of us losing. We'll have to go back to camp and see what we want to do from here."
Much of the debate became focused on a provision that said businesses had to provide "any member of the public access to nonwork areas" of a business to "inform employees of their rights under this ordinance and other laws."
Opponents said that provision would allow anyone to linger in a business harassing employees about any cause. Supporters said the provision merely allowed people to approach workers on sidewalks and in parking lots to make sure employees know about the wage.
"In the ordinance, they over-reached, particularly in the area of access," said Sherman McCorkle, co-chairman, with McGill, of the business coalition. "All of the polls showed that when people understood the part about access, they disliked the ordinance."
Polling commissioned by the Journal showed that as of Saturday, 53 percent of voters supported the ordinance. But that support fell to 47 percent when voters were told about the access provision.
Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling Inc. said that the exit polls showed "that support for the minimum wage was higher among women, younger adults, Democrats and Hispanics. It was doing much better in the Downtown, UNM and Valley areas."
The ordinance would have required Albuquerque businesses employing 11 or more people to pay most workers at least $7.50 an hour and workers who earn income from tips $4.50 an hour. The current federal and state minimum wage is $5.15. The wage would have been raised annually at the inflation rate.
The minimum wage proposal became the most controversial on the ballot. Dueling postcards arrived in Albuquerque voters' mailboxes for weeks.
ACORN and its allies labor unions, religious and community groups and some businesses said the wage would help lift some of the working poor out of poverty.
Opponents warned that businesses would locate outside of city limits to avoid the ordinance and that businesses in the city would employ fewer low-skill workers.
Santa Fe remains the only city in New Mexico and one of the few in the United States to have a citywide minimum wage ordinance for private employers. Santa Fe's minimum wage is $8.50 a hour.
The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 1997.