Albuquerque Considers Minimum Wage Hike

John Sanchez barely scrapes together a living. His minimum wage work at a fast-food restaurant is supplemented by helping his cousin with an occasional tiling job.

"Sometimes we don't pay the bills. We just give them half," said Sanchez.

On Tuesday, Sanchez hopes to find some relief: Voters in New Mexico's largest city head to the polls to decide whether to hike the minimum wage (search).

Also on the ballot is the mayor's race, pitting incumbent Mayor Martin Chavez against three challengers. In Ohio, seven challengers to Cleveland's mayor face off in a nonpartisan primary, while a vacant U.S. House seat is up for grabs in Orange County, Calif.

Under the Albuquerque (search) wage proposal, businesses with 11 or more workers would have to pay them at least $7.50 an hour, up from the state and federal minimum of $5.15 an hour. Tipped workers would go to $4.50 hourly, up from $2.13.

The proposal makes Albuquerque — with about 485,000 people, and a hub of the state's growth — the latest battleground in a war over wages fought around the nation over the past dozen years.

The federal minimum wage hasn't been increased since 1997, and Congress's reluctance to do so has fueled local efforts, according to Jen Kern, director of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform's Living Wage Resource Center.

Seventeen states — including New Jersey, where the minimum wage went up to $6.15 on Saturday — and the District of Columbia have boosted such paychecks higher than the federal $5.15. In Washington state, it's $7.35 and $7.25 in Oregon.

About 130 other cities or counties, according to the association, have enacted some sort of minimum wage ordinance that applies only narrowly — to companies that get contracts with local governments, for example.

Only two cities other than Washington, D.C. — neighboring Santa Fe in New Mexico, and San Francisco — have minimum wage ordinances that apply to all businesses of a certain size.

Restaurants, which are labor-intensive and employ a lot of entry-level workers, are particularly affected by minimum wage increases and are among the most vocal opponents.

Carol Wight, head of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said Albuquerque's proposed ordinance would hurt the city's estimated 2,200 restaurants. "Prices are going to be outrageous in Albuquerque in about a year, if this passes," Wight said.

In the mayoral race, voters will choose among four candidates. The nonpartisan election includes Chavez, the incumbent who has held a wide lead in recent polls. If voters choose Chavez, he would be the first incumbent mayor ever re-elected in the city's history.

In other votes Tuesday:

• Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, 52, the city's first woman mayor, faces six fellow Democrats, including Republican David Lynch, a former suburban Euclid mayor who moved to Cleveland to run against her. The top two finishers will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

• In Orange County, Calif., 17 candidates are vying for the only vacant U.S. House seat, which former Rep. Christopher Cox relinquished when President Bush tapped him to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The top finisher from each party will compete in a Dec. 6 runoff.