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Appeals Court Upholds Santa Fe Living Wage Law

November 30, 2005

For Imediate Release
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Contact Information:
Paul Sonn, 917 566–0680

Appeals Court Upholds Santa Fe Wage Law
Landmark Ruling Confirms Power of Cities to Raise Pay for Low-Wage Residents

In a landmark ruling following an appeal from a full trial, the New Mexico Court of Appeals yesterday upheld Santa Fes living wage law one of the nations first local wage laws to apply citywide. The Santa Fe law raised the minimum wage for workers at all large companies doing business in the city.

The ruling makes permanent an increase that first went into effect in June 2004, entitling thousands of low-wage workers in Santa Fe to receive at least $8.50 an hour. Under the law, Santa Fes minimum wage will increase to $9.50 an hour on January 1, 2006. The federal minimum wage and the state minimum wage (effective elsewhere in New Mexico) are both just $5.15 an hour.

Were enormously gratified by the decision which will ensure that Santa Fes low-wage workers continue to receive a living wage, said Sidney Rosdeitcher, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison who argued the case before the New Mexico Court of Appeals. It is a resounding recognition of the powers of municipalities to protect the public health and safety by ensuring an adequate minimum wage for local workers. The Brennan Center and the Paul Weiss law firm volunteered their services to represent the city of Santa Fe in defending the law.

After the Santa Fe city council passed the law in 2003, a group calling itself New Mexicans for Free Enterprise sued seeking to block the wage hike. In June 2004, a trial court upheld the Santa Fe law, allowing the new law to go into effect, thereby raising the wage for thousands of local workers to $8.50 an hour. Todays decision affirmed that ruling on all grounds, rejecting a grab bag of legal objections that had been raised. The court confirmed that raising the minimum wage falls within local home rule powers, and that state minimum wage laws do not bar cities from raising the local minimum wage to levels adequate for their communities.

This is a ruling for basic fairness that will help stop technical legal arguments from being used to block community based efforts to expand opportunity for working families, said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center.

Since 1994, more than 130 cities have enacted living wage laws that increase the minimum wage for workers at businesses performing city contracts. More recently, cities like Santa Fe have enacted broader minimum wage laws that raise pay for workers at all private businesses in their communities not just those performing city contracts. In addition to Santa Fe, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have enacted citywide minimum wage laws and Santa Cruz is considering doing so. Other cities are exploring local laws to raise the minimum wage for workers in specific industries. This month Emeryville, California enacted a local $9 minimum wage for hotel workers, and Chicago and Washington, D.C. are considering $10 minimum wages for workers at big box retail stores.

The Brennan Center assists cities, states and community groups across the United States in enacting and defending new laws to bring living wages and health benefits to working families.

To read a copy of the courts decision, click here. For more information, contact Paul Sonn at (917) 566–0680 or at .