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Effort Underway to Increase Albuquerque Minimum Wage

July 9, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - WorkingAmerica is sponsoring an initiative to raise the minimum wage in Albuquerque. The AFL-CIO affiliate is working with groups such as Progressive Voter Alliance of Central New Mexico and Albuquerque Interfaith to gather petition signatures.

Matthew Henderson is the executive director of the community group OLÉ (Organizers in the Land of Enchantment). He says in addition to an effort to bring the lowest hourly wage in Albuquerque up to $8.50, OLÉ wants to take the plan a step farther: index it.

"It should include a provision so that the wage goes up every year on January 1, to keep pace with the cost of living."

Opponents of increasing the minimum wage claim it will drive jobs out of the state and hurt small businesses. OLÉ says that's not the case. The organization points to a recent study of the effects of Santa Fe's increased minimum wage, currently $10.29 an hour. The study shows the city to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

Henderson suspects big-box stores may be some of his organization's stiffest competition against a wage increase. However, he says, when it comes to small local businesses, they generally pay above minimum wage, and he anticipates their support.

"Local New Mexico businesses are competing against big, out-of-state companies that are paying the minimum wage. I think local businesses will really see this as a great way to level the playing field."

WorkingAmerica has until August 11 to collect 12,091 signatures of registered Albuquerque voters in order to put the initiative on the November ballot. Henderson says the effort is "wildly popular."

He explains what happens after the city clerk certifies the signatures.

"The Albuquerque City Council will have the opportunity to approve the measure and pass it into law, automatically. If they can't come to an agreement on that, they will then move to put it on the November ballot for voter approval."

If the ballot initiative passes, it will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Renee Blake/Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM