As the Biden administration pushes for a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, and with many cities and states across the nation already nearing or exceeding that rate, the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County will see base pay rise to $12.32 on March 1.
The 22-cent increase from the current hourly rate of $12.10 is based on the Consumer Price Index for the Western region and is required under “living wage” ordinances in the city and county.
The local governments are among 52 jurisdictions in the United States that have higher minimum wages than their states.
From 2004-12, the city of Santa Fe had the highest or second-highest minimum wage in the country after becoming the first U.S. city to enact a higher rate than the state’s wage. Since 2012, however, it has fallen behind.
Rates in California, Massachusetts, New York and Washington state now exceed the minimum wage in Santa Fe. Numerous U.S. cities also have higher rates, with Seattle; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; New York City; and Washington, D.C., requiring employers to pay workers $15 per hour or more.
Is it feasible for Santa Fe to once again have the highest minimum wage in the country? Social justice advocates and local leaders have differing views.
“There are always opportunities to help workers,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide civil and workers rights organization.
Santa Fe-based economic and environment justice organization Chainbreaker Collective recognizes the working class is suffering more now than before the coronavirus pandemic, said Tomás Rivera, the group’s executive director.
“Now with COVID, it is very clear we need to look at wages and working conditions,” he said.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, an affordable housing advocate, was more circumspect about larger minimum wage increases.
“We need the timing to be better than what it is,” Vigil Coppler said. “We have a lot of businesses barely making it. We need to see where we are at. … I think [the city’s living wage ordinance] deserves a review. We should know where we stand. This has not been something the City Council has discussed.”
Vigil Coppler said affordable housing is a higher priority for her than the city once again having the highest minimum wage in the country.
“I’m not a proponent that we are leader. This is not a race,” she said. “We do want to pay enough for people to live here and work and play here. We do need to make some headway on affordable housing. Even if we raise the minimum, if we can’t give them an affordable place to live, they won’t spend their money here.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in January introduced legislation with the backing of 37 Senate Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour over five years. Vigil Coppler said she is monitoring the national push and President Joe Biden’s ambition for a $15 minimum wage.
“I think it’s doable and is something that should be worked on,” Vigil Coppler said.
Mayor Alan Webber sees a number of COVID-19-related issues beyond the living wage, including affordable housing, health care, and helping small- and medium-sized businesses “making it through this crisis.”
“There are a number of developments we need to keep an eye on [regarding minimum wage],” Webber said in a statement. “The first is the Biden administration. I think we can expect action at the federal level with regard to the minimum wage.”
What stifles higher increases in the Santa Fe minimum wage is the city’s 2004 living wage ordinance, which dictated annual increases starting in 2009 be based on the Consumer Price Index for the Western region for urban wage earners and clerical workers. The City Council has not amended this stipulation; neither has Santa Fe County, which has a similar ordinance enacted in 2014.
Among the 52 cities and counties with higher local minimum wages than their state minimum wages, the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County require the lowest housing wages — the wage required to afford a two-bedroom rental and not pay more than 30 percent in salary for rent, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition report.
Santa Fe rental rates and home prices are sky-high for the local population — the housing coalition report determined 60 percent of residents here can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment — but the crises is even worse in nearly all growing cities and states.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition defines the housing wage for Santa Fe County at $20.33 per hour. Broken down, the housing wage in the 87505 ZIP code is $21.15 per hour, and it is $19.81 in 87507. Many cities with higher minimum wages have housing wages above $30 per hour.
“It’s wonderful that so many states and cities and jurisdictions have followed Santa Fe’s lead all these years later, but our working-class families [in Santa Fe] are still really struggling,” said Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, a staff attorney at Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
Guzmán said the situation is reminiscent of the minimum wage debate here in 2004.
“I do know the Santa Fe living wage push was a heavy lift in 2004,” she said. “It was not easy. Is our minimum wage really high enough to meet the needs of working-class families in Santa Fe?”