The Santa Fe County Commission made headlines in February, when it passed a Living Wage Ordinance that increased the minimum pay in unincorporated areas from $7.50 per hour to $10.66 — equal to the city’s minimum — and increased the base wage for tipped employees to $6.40.

At the time, the measure’s sponsors, Commissioners Miguel Chavez and Liz Stefanics, said the legislation didn’t do enough but was a move in the right direction.

“It should be much higher,” Stefanics said.

Chavez agreed. “It really is a non-living wage,” he said, “but it puts money in the pockets of people who need it most.”

But tipped employees have yet to see an increase in pay, and when they finally do, come Jan. 1, 2015, their wage hike will be much smaller.

On May 27, the commission amended the Living Wage Ordinance, reducing base pay for tipped workers to $3.20 per hour and delaying implementation of that increase until 2015. In the meantime, since the amendments had been proposed before the ordinance took effect April 27, county officials say, the increase for those workers was suspended until the commission took a vote.

Wage laws allow tipped employees to be paid a base wage that’s less than the federal minimum but require an employer to make up the difference if a worker’s base wage and tips combined don’t reach the minimum pay.

Two county commissioners who had voted to approve the original wage ordinance introduced the amendments.

Commissioner Robert Anaya proposed doing away entirely with the increase for tipped employees. This would have left tipped workers’ base pay at $2.13 per hour — the federal minimum since 1991, when it was increased by 4 cents.

Commissioner Miguel Chavez proposed a compromise bill — adopted by a vote of 4-1 — that set the wage at $3.20 and delayed it until Jan. 1.

Chavez said Thursday he proposed the amendment “because I understand that this is also going to be an impact to those that employ people.” Delaying the increase would give employers more time to adjust, he added.

Commissioners Anaya, Stefanics and Kathy Holian did not return calls seeking comment.

During a discussion about proposed changes to the ordinance May 13, Anaya said he “had dialogue with people on both sides” and felt the changes would “make sure that the ordinance is effective and useful” and wouldn’t discourage people from operating businesses in the county.

Feedback from area restaurant owners may have played a role in his decision. Harry’s Roadhouse owner Harry Shapiro told The New Mexican on Tuesday that he was “shocked” when he heard about the increase for tipped employees.

“The waiters are the best-paid hourly employees in the restaurant,” Shapiro said. “So you are taking someone that is making that much money” — he estimated his staffers earn $20 to $40 per hour — “and giving them a 300 percent wage increase, and you’re not addressing the dishwashers or cooks or anyone who typically gets a lot less than the waiters.”

He explained this to members of the County Commission, who then proposed the amendments, Shapiro said.

Along with Shapiro, about half a dozen restaurateurs — including the owners of Joe’s Dining, Steaksmith at El Gancho and Cafe Fina — spoke during two public hearings held before a vote on the wage ordinance amendments. All but one of them opposed the increase for tipped employees.

“You’re singling out a group of people that already makes more than the minimum wage, and you give them more money,” said Roland Richter, owner and chef at Joe’s Dining. Richter’s business is in the city, but he said he felt the county issue was important, so he wanted to weigh in.

Laurie Lindsey, owner the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, was the sole voice of support for the compromise ordinance that the commission passed.

It seems tipped employees should have earned the higher rate of $6.40 per hour for the month between April 27, when the Living Wage Ordinance took effect, and May 27, when the commission voted to reduce and delay the increase.

But they didn’t.

On April 24, County Manager Katherine Miller sent a letter to business owners, saying the base wage increase for tipped employees was “suspended” until May 27 “or later,” when the commission had a chance to address the proposed amendments.

Miller was out sick this week, according to county spokeswoman Kristine Mihelcic, and could not comment for this story.

Jared Ames, state director of the labor advocacy group Working America, took issue with the suspension of that section of the ordinance in a written statement Thursday.

“We’re disturbed that the [county] denied tipped workers a month’s worth of higher wages without any clear rationale,” he said. “If they had been paid that wage — as they should have been under the law — it would have been much more difficult for the county commissioners to take the wage away.”

Ames’ group had gathered signatures to get the commission to consider the original Living Wage Ordinance.

In his statement, Ames said, “Tipped workers deserve a living wage just as much as other workers especially since they are more than twice as likely to fall under the federal poverty.”

Danny Mayfield — the only commissioner who voted against reducing and delaying the increase for tipped employees — also questioned the suspension of the ordinance.

He asked Miller on May 13 how the county could put an ordinance on hold, without a public vote, after it has passed.

Miller said the notice had been sent on the advice of then county attorney Steve Ross.

Mayfield raised the issue again May 27 with Gregory Shaffer, the new county attorney. But Shaffer declined to address the question publicly.

Asked what authority the county’s legal department had to delay all or part of an approved ordinance, Mihelcic replied in writing that “the decision to suspend the tipped-wage portion of the ordinance was based upon a variety of factors, including the burden caused to business if they were required to implement two different wages for tipped employees within a matter of weeks and the confusion likely to result from the giving of a temporary wage increase.”

She declined to speculate on how the county would handle a future ordinance that is scheduled to take effect after amendments have been proposed.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or

(12) comments

mark mocha

Can people make a living? A couple of dollars an hour more for hard work. And yes, waiting tables is very hard work. Think of the people they have to deal with on a daily basis. And newsflash. People are cheap. Not everyone gives a fair tip. Not by a long shot.
I think we can afford to raise the minimum wage to at least $11 an hour, if not more. And don't cry for McDonalds, Walmart and Hobby Lobby. They can afford it. So can most small businesses if they demand an honest days work for a living wage. It'll all work out in the end, employees will be happier which will translate into a better work effort. Have faith America.... or at least Santa Fe.
On another note..... perusing the help wanted ads on Craigslist. Look under general labor. There is a well known car wash that is looking for a few good men (and I assume women too) and advertising a salary of $10.66 an hour TIPS INCLUDED. Does this mean that they are paying $10.66 but keeping the tips and using them to pay the salary? Am I reading this wrong? Can they do that? Should they do that? Sounds way cheesy to me. Hey, Santa Fe New Mexican!!! Get on this story and find out what gives. Can a business take an employees tips and use them to pay an hourly wage? What say you Peanut Gallery.

Pierce Knolls

Here's what the ordinance says about tipped workers: "For workers who customarily receive more than one hundred dollars ($100.) per month in tips or commissions, any tips or commissions received and retained by a worker shall be counted as wages and credited towards satisfaction of the minimum wage provided that, for tipped workers, all tips received by such workers are retained by the workers, except that the pooling of tips among workers shall be permitted."

I would assume that the car wash is just pooling the tips and divvying them up between the tipped employees, and using that information to calculate how much extra they might need to pay each employee to bring everybody up to the Living Wage. If an employee's base wage plus tips doesn't add up to the Living Wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Mark Ortiz

If this is the same car wash this newspaper has written about previously, more than a couple of times, they are notorious for sticking it to their employees, especially if they chose to hire those without papers. I believe the company is Squeeky Clean car wash.
Mr. Knolls, would you care to comment. I felt the $10 plus an hour was okay for businesses with over 25 employees but not for the life of me do I know how Mom and Pop shops make it now that they have to too. How was the City able to pull off this bait and switch? It was approved for those with over 25 employees then when it seemed to get support, the City subjected all businesses to the wage minimum.

Pierce Knolls

If I remember correctly, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against Squeaky Clean in a wage and hours dispute with their employees. As a result, I thought Squeaky Clean supposedly changed the way they calculated their employees' wages and work hours and the way they factored in tips as part of the Living Wage.

My point in my post above was only that "advertising a salary of $10.66 an hour TIPS INCLUDED" is not inherently indicative of a violation of the Living Wage ordinance, because the ordinance specifically allows an employer to credit an employee's tips towards the satisfaction of the Living Wage.

Regarding the Living Wage being applied to even businesses with fewer than twenty-five employees, about a year after the original Living Wage ordinance was passed, the city council voted in open session to amend the ordinance to include all businesses, regardless of number of employees.

Emily Koyama

I consider myself a good tipper- usually 20 percent, and sometimes more for really good service. That averages six to ten dollars per tip, depending on where my wife and I eat. If the server is waiting on four or five other tables during the same time he/she is waiting on our table, that would be at least $20 an hour, even allowing for stingy tippers. Figure a 30 hour work week (many servers work 40 or more) and it works out to $600.00 plus per week, not bad compared to a minimum wage worker, who is getting maybe $400.00 per week. That extra ten grand per year goes a long way.

Fred Stokes

Ms Haywood is the exception on the New Mexican -- a good reporter.

Fred Stokes

Mayfield is correct. The County had no authority to take away the increase without a new vote. It is an incredibly brazen illegal act justified by a crooked County Attorney. TG he is gone.

henry Griswold

tipped employees are only getting the new min wage if they don't make that min in wages & tips, which is rare.

Staci Benni

I am not surprised that the county engaged in what appears to be improper suspension of part of an ordinance. IT didnt even pay its poll workers the minimum wage that was in effect that day. It seems that this living wage was a feel-good measure to get votes under false promises. It works only if the business is busy. And IMHO Robert Anaya is a pig—look at his private life and his evasiveness in dealings in that sector. I am sorry he has no opposition for his seat.

C.j. Robison

Overall I think it is a good decision to suspend the wage increase. While I agree that there is wage inequality that has reached an all time high in the US labor force, it seems a bit shortsighted to think that a local law will fix this. Mr. Shapiro makes a valid observation that waged employees are the highest paid in the restaurant. Some restaurants choose to pool their tips and disburse them equally amongst all the workers. Now isn't that what we are really asking for?

henry Griswold

“The waiters are the best-paid hourly employees in the restaurant,” Shapiro said.
— he estimated his staffers earn $20 to $40 per hour

Steve Spraitz

last in county, out of city limits restaurant I ate lunch at was bobcat bite.
5 yrars ago.
Bonnie asked me if I wanted Grilled Onions after I Asked for Onions.
cheese, green chile, etc.
Complete Sticker Shock when grilled Onions were an Extra $1.50/
had I known, later.
Now this Living Wage!
Heck, they have 'Tip' Jars now at Chicago Dog, McDonalds, You Name it.
and everywhere in between.
and the unlicensed illegal contractors run amuck.

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