The story of a business owner who refuses to pay the new minimum wage that two-thirds of Albuquerque voters continues to have legs.
Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry weighed in — and in a way that will likely show up in campaign ads in October.
Berry told the Albuquerque Journal that it wasn’t up to him to enforce the minimum wage law passed by Albuquerque voters. Berry passed the buck to the city attorney.
The answer isn’t what many want to hear — the minimum wage increase was incredibly popular.
With restaurant owner Eric Szeman saying he isn’t paying the minimum wage, after writing illegal contracts with his employees, the question has become what sort of enforcement will there be — the city attorney said he did not have the resources to go after violators.
Berry added, in an interview, that the city attorney is concerned about stepping “into unprecedented territory involving employer-employee disputes” that could involve tens of thousands of businesses.
“I have to stand by what my city attorney is saying,” Berry said Tuesday.
Berry initially responded to the Journal in an email statement, but perhaps felt the need for more damage control.
The city attorney was on the same page as Bery. In a KRQE article:
“The city attorney’s office doesn’t represent private employees and private causes of action with private employers,” David Tourek said. “There are 40,000 businesses in the city of Albuquerque.”
Tourek says it’s up to the private employees who are affected to pursue legal action.
“If the council were to appropriate and authorize me to start representing private individuals and private causes of action against their private employers, and provide the necessary appropriation, then I would follow that,” Tourek added.
While the ordinance says an employee “may bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction,” a part later in the section of the new ordinance says, “The requirements of this ordinance may also be enforced by the City Attorney.”
Tourek says he will need more money from the city council to do so.
Szeman, compared his not paying workers the minimum wage to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s disobedience, according to KRQE:
“I have a quote from Martin Luther King, if you will, that it’s our responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” said owner Eric Szeman.
In case you think it was taken out of context, Szeman has the quote on his Facebook page, via radio host Michael Savage.
Szeman, for proudly flouting the law, is now facing a protest organized by the progressive group ProgressNow New Mexico.