AP NEWS

Santa Fe’s minimum wage to rise March 1

February 11, 2019 GMT

The city of Santa Fe’s minimum wage — or “living wage,” in the city’s language — will rise March 1 to $11.80 per hour, the highest in the state, from $11.40 under an ordinance that ties annual increases to the Consumer Price Index for the Western Region.

Under a similar ordinance in Santa Fe County, the base wage outside city limits is expected to increase next month as well. The county has not announced its new rate, which also is tied to the index.

It’s unclear how many workers in the area will see a bump in their paychecks.

Silas Peterson, chairman of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Hire Firm, a Santa Fe-based staffing agency, said he doesn’t believe many employers in the city are still paying the minimum wage, aside from “small mom-and-pop service providers,” including restaurants.

Wages at other local businesses tend to cluster around the $12-per-hour line, Peterson said.

“It’s hard to find quality employees at minimum wage rates,” he added. “We have a lot [of clients] right at $12. If we try to pay right at the minimum, we don’t find employees are as reliable.”

The Hire Firm focuses mostly on office, accounting, labor and light industrial jobs.

The city’s wage increase comes as lawmakers at the state Capitol are trying to negotiate an increase in the statewide minimum wage, now set at a decade-old rate of $7.50 per hour, just 25 cents above the federal minimum. A sticking point for many businesses is a proposed elimination of the $2.13-per-hour base wage for tipped workers.

While the city of Santa Fe has not increased the wage for tipped workers, Santa Fe County’s tipped workers earn a minimum of $3.41 — a rate that also is set to rise March 1 under a county wage law that passed in 2014.

County officials could not be reached for comment on the upcoming rate change.

Santa Fe and San Francisco in 2004 were the first two U.S. cities to successfully set minimum wages above the federal or state minimums; both raise rates to $8.50 per hour.

Santa Fe’s minimum wage then began inching up after 2009, while the statewide and federal minimum wages have remained firmly rooted.

The city’s Living Wage Ordinance drew fierce debate when it was approved in 2004 and for years after as city officials sought to continue increasing the rate. But now, many employers — even national chains — are offering starting pay that surpasses the city wage.

Target Corp. announced in September it would begin paying workers at its stores nationwide a $12 minimum wage, with an intention to reach a $15 minimum by the end of 2020, spokeswoman Angie Thompson said.

“An increase to under $12 [in Santa Fe] won’t impact us,” she added.

Target’s minimum wage is “adjusted by market to make sure we are competitive,” Thompson said.

A manager at Target in Santa Fe, who did not wish to be identified, said employees there start at an even higher wage of $13 per hour.

Colin Keegan, owner of Santa Fe Spirits, is conflicted about the city’s minimum wage, with a split between his personal thoughts and his challenges as the owner of a spirits producer and two bars.

“I don’t disagree with it personally,” Keegan said about the 40-cent increase. “I really do think a ‘living wage’ is important for all people. As a business owner, it’s always difficult when a government entity dictates restrictions on a small business. They can’t look at it through the eyes of a business owner.”

Keegan said none of his nine full-time employees is “near the minimum wage.” He pays his four part-time barkeepers $7.50 per hour, though he’s only required to pay them the tipped worker wage of $2.13.

He could feel the crunch another way, he said, as local bars and restaurants might look for ways to trim costs to pay higher wages.

“They will go for cheaper vodka rather than my products,” he said.

A former chairman of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, Keegan said, “What I’m hearing from other business owners is, ‘Good God, I’d rather keep key people and put them on salary.’ The younger labor pool will get squeezed hard. They will go to Albuquerque.”