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Mayor, city councilors differ sharply on minimum wage


Mayor Ken Miyagishima and several Las Cruces City Councilors exchanged sharp words during the Sept. 14 city work session as the council discussed an increase in the city minimum wage mandated to begin Jan. 1.

Under city ordinance, the local minimum wage would increase from $10.10 an hour to $10.25 an hour Jan. 1, 2021. That increase is based on the federal Consumer Price Index in August, which the U.S. Department of Labor just announced, city Chief Budget Officer Leeann DeMouche said at the meeting. But the actual increase will be to $10.50 an hour because the higher figure is the state minimum wage adopted by the New Mexico Legislature, which the local minimum wage must equal.

Currently, tipped employees (waiters and waitresses) in Las Cruces earn 40 percent of the minimum wage, $4.20 an hour, as compared to the state minimum wage for tipped employees of $2.35 an hour.

The mayor suggested that the council consider temporarily following the state minimum wage for tipped employees. Those employees would have guaranteed earnings of at least $10.50 an hour beginning in January even with temporary reduction, the mayor said, because employers would be required to make up any gap.

“If we could drop to the state rate, I think it would be extremely welcome,” Miyagishima said. He suggested that the reduction be for four months, six months or up to one year before returning to the higher pay rate.

“You guys have no idea what it takes to run a business,” Miyagishima told the council. “It’s hard to make the payroll. This is the time they need us.”

With some federal support for businesses during the current public health pandemic having run out, he said, “the next two months are going to be very, very difficult” for local businesses, including restaurants. “The business owners are in for a tough time,” the mayor said. “This is an opportunity to help. This is what our reality is. They’ve mortgaged everything they have.”

“I want you to acknowledge this is difficult for the workers as well,” Mayor Pro-tem Kasandra Gandara replied to the mayor. She recommended separate council work sessions for business owners and employees before the council makes a final decision. “Business owners would overpower workers’ concerns,” Gandara said. “Workers feel … that they don’t have a voice in this. I just want to make sure that we are helping everybody out.”

“I’m really disappointed in your reaction, Mayor,” Councilor Johana Bencomo said. “This is a team effort. Low-wage workers are also on life support. Let’s find ways to support our small business community that isn’t on the backs of our workers.”

Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve said she would like to “hear from servers right now – What is it looking like right now during this time of COVID?” The council, she said, should “be specific in our language to make sure the workers are protected as well.”

“This is a tough one,” Councilor Yvonne Flores said. “With COVID the way it is, I don’t think it’s going to change in six months. I think we’ve had so much upheaval already between business and employees, I’d rather leave it the way it is now, because we’re higher than the state minimum wage for servers, for tipped workers.” The “scenario has changed because we have a lot fewer people eating out,” Flores said.

DeMouche said the city must advertise the new minimum wage by Oct. 15.

The council has scheduled a Sept. 22 work session to further discuss the matter.