SANTA FE (KRQE) — A Court of Appeals ruling means that more than 10,000 unionized state workers could be paid an estimated $20 million for three years worth of a partially unpaid raise.
The dispute started when the Richardson administration entered into an agreement with two unions that represent about 10,000 state employees.
Under that agreement, workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Communications Workers of America would get a 3 to 5.5 percent pay raise starting in 2009 as long as the Legislature allocated money to pay for it.
The Legislature set aside more than enough for pay raises, but allocated the money with the express purpose of giving all state employee--union and nonunion--a flat 2.9 percent pay raise.
That meant union workers did not get the full pay raise in the agreement. The state administration maintained the agreement's provisions only apply if the Legislature votes to fund it per a clause in the contract.
Both unions cried foul and appealed to an arbitrator. That arbitrator ruled in their favor, as did a District Court judge and, in a ruling released this week, so did the Court of Appeals.
AFSCME attorney Shane Youtz said it's a clear-cut case.
hen we sign an agreement with the state, they have a legal obligation to honor it, and that's the most important thing about this decision,"
But Gov. Susana Martinez is objecting to the ruling. Spokesperson Scott Darnell said it gives the executive branch the power to force the Legislature to spend money to fulfill contracts the governor signs, something that violates the New Mexico Constitution.
"In this case you actually have the executive that brokered the agreement with a particular group of people that the court is saying is binding on the Legislature, that the Legislature has to appropriate a certain amount of money for a certain purpose," Darnell said.
Darnell said the state will appeal the decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
If the decision holds, it may be difficult to pay out all of the money the state owes. Many employees who would be owed the back pay have left state government since the raise would have first been paid out.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.