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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bernalillo County may follow Albuquerque’s lead in increasing minimum wage if county commissioners vote in favor

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By Rachel Toraño-Mark / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Shift manager Carl Fischer mops up in the bathrooms at Which Wich sandwich shop on Harvard Drive on Monday evening. Fischer, who works for minimum wage, said a minimum wage increase will make jobs less flexible for students and will make it harder for them to find jobs. Even so, he said he supports the increase.

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After the minimum wage in Albuquerque increased by $1 earlier this month, Bernalillo County is considering a similar move.

Today, Bernalillo County Commissioners will vote on whether to introduce a proposal to increase the county’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour. Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz introduced the proposal last year.

But Minda McGonagle, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said an increase will be disadvantageous for businesses in the area. She said the hike, if approved, will make it harder for businesses to move into the area.

“We are at a point when we want businesses to come into the state,” she said. “When you raise minimum wage, it’s not necessarily a good sign for businesses to come in.”

Although the NFIB is not working on a campaign against the proposal, McGonagle said the organization is not going to support the increase.

McGonagle said that because the minimum wage is the starting wage employees earn, a higher minimum wage will make it harder for businesses to maintain operations. She said businesses will have a hard time providing raises to employees once the minimum wage is increased.

“Small businesses must be able to afford paying their employees,” she said. “The wage that you’re hired at is not going to be the wage that you stay at.”

But McGonagle said that if the proposal is approved, it would provide Bernalillo County with a consistent minimum wage rate, as the rate in Albuquerque is $1 higher than the rate in the rest of the county.

“If you’re on a street that’s right at the boundary, you’ll have two minimum wages,” she said. “When you have different communities that are right next door, it’s understandable that it’s going to create confusion.”

McGonagle also said that if the minimum wage in Bernalillo County went up, it would be easier for businesses to be more competitive.

“If you’re a restaurant in Bernalillo County and you’re competing to get employees from Albuquerque, people are going to look at Albuquerque first because of minimum wage,” she said. “But because there’s so many people looking for work … people will continue to look for jobs even at minimum wage at Bernalillo County.”

Carl Fischer, a shift leader for the local sandwich shop Which Wich, said he supports the increase. He said that although it is not difficult for businesses to get employees, businesses will not have to provide raises to their employees as frequently when the minimum wage goes up, compared to when it stays at its current rate. He said it will be easier for local businesses to keep employees through a higher minimum wage.

“It’s not hard at all to get employees,” he said. “It might be more beneficial for them to not have a higher turnover rate because it’s going to cost a lot more to hire an employee and to keep them on. It takes an employer two months to recuperate just the costs of training.”

But Fischer said a higher minimum wage will make job searches more difficult, especially for students. He said employers will expect more from employees, which will require more flexibility from students.

“Students are mainly relying on schedule versatility,” he said. “Employers are going to want to have minimum-wage employees work full-time. So if they’re going to raise minimum wage, it might be way harder for them to get a job.”

Gina Yates, owner of the local clothing shop Frock Star Vintage, said she supports the minimum wage increase.

“Even from the perspective of being a business owner, I see all my customers struggling just to pay rent and get by,” she said. “It would help a lot of people in that lower bracket, which is mainly my clientele, to be able to have some money left over.”

Yates said that although she operates the business by herself, she is willing to pay more for an employee if ever she needs to.

“If I got to the point where I was able to hire someone, I would have to pay them more, and I’m OK with that,’ she said. “That would make up for the fact that everybody would have more money.”

If the proposal passes, community members will have 30 days to provide input on it. They can do so by contacting the commission at (505) 468-7000 or commission@bernco.gov. The commission will then hold final vote on the increase on Feb. 26.