ABQ business ignores minimum wage hike

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — A local restaurant owner admittedly didn't raise pay for his employees when the minimum wage hike went into effect in Albuquerque this year.

An unhappy worker blasted his boss on TV for it, and now another group is getting involved in the dispute.

This is the center of the recent controversy, Route 66 Malt Shop, where a progressive group is now saying they will be rallying Tuesday in protest.

The owner admits non-tipped workers are still making $7.50 an hour and tipped workers are making $2.13 an hour, even though by law they should now be getting $8.50 an hour and $3.83 an hour, respectively.

“We had a verbal agreement before the newest minimum wage law went into effect that they would work at whatever wage we hired them at,” says owner Eric Szeman.

He says it was either that or go out of business and leave everyone without a job.

“The lowest paid waiter makes more than I make. Of course, the lowest paid waiter makes more than my wife makes, I make and our son makes combined."

“Regardless, you can't pick and choose which laws you follow,” says Alex Curtas, research director at ProgressNow New Mexico.

He says the group is stepping in, speaking for those who may not want to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

And they are not just speaking out against the malt shop owner, Curtas is also criticizing the city that says they don't have the necessary authorization or resources to enforce the law.

“Which leaves the workers in position where they have to provide their own legal counsel while making $3.83 an hour at their minimum wage job,” Curtas says.

The group sent out emails, encouraging people to rally outside the restaurant at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Szeman says bring it on.

“What can they do to us? If we comply with the law, we're already out of business,” he says. “Eighteen years, hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments over the years—this is what we have got to show for it and it's all in jeopardy."

The City Attorney's office says it would need city council to give them the power and staff needed to enforce the law.

The Mayor's office says workers could sue for triple their lost wages and for attorney's fees.

Szeman says he is hoping people on his side will show up Tuesday for a counter rally.

In November, 66 percent of voters supported the minimum wage hike at the polls.

The Legislature is also looking at a minimum wage hike for the state that would match Albuquerque’s law.

Copyright 2014 KRQE TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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New Mexico (change)

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.
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