Albuquerque restaurant not implementing wage law

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An Albuquerque restaurant owner says he's not going to comply with the city's new higher minimum wage, and the city doesn't plan to do anything about it, at least for now.

Eric Szeman said his Route 66 Malt Shop cannot afford to comply with the wage law. Eventually, after schedule cuts and layoffs, "we'd have to close our doors," he said.

The voter-approved law raised most workers' hourly pay to $8.50 from $7.50 and tipped employees' hourly pay to $3.83 from $2.13.

Szeman said his workers have agreed in writing to keep working at the old pay rates and that he's determined there's no enforcement of the new law.

"So we're not complying, and our staff is perfectly happy to work at the old minimum wage," he said.

The law authorizes workers to sue for triple back pay plus legal costs and the city attorney to enforce the law, the Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday.

City Attorney David Tourek said businesses cannot opt out of the ordinance even if employees sign what Tourek called "an illegal contract."

However, Tourek said he's not planning to take action until the City Council provides him with authorization and funding for enforcement.

Without those, "the City Attorney's Office will not be initiating civil lawsuits in court against private businesses on the behalf of private individuals," he said in a written statement.

Matthew Henderson of an advocacy group that pushed for the wage increase said Szeman is crying wolf about his business' economic situation and that city officials should enforce the law.

The law was approved by Albuquerque voters last November. It took effect in January.

Business groups fought the proposal. They said it would result in higher prices and job losses because companies couldn't afford as many workers.

Supporters argued that it would provide workers with a living wage.