ALBUQUERQUE – A popular New Mexico restaurant was the first business to be targeted Thursday in a state and local push to enforce wage laws.
Officials said they were suing Hacienda Del Rio and its owners over allegations that the Albuquerque eatery violated state law and city ordinances.
The case was prompted by dozens of complaints over the past two years. Officials accused the business of failing to pay for overtime worked, taking unlawful payroll deductions and giving workers bad checks.
The lawsuit involves 33 workers. But state labor secretary Bill McCamley said there are likely more people who have been afraid to report wage abuses.
Low-wage workers are often those most affected by illegal pay practices because they are working paycheck to paycheck, McCamley said.
McCamley said his agency has been working to educate employers about wage laws, but some businesses have neglected to settle claims or respond to investigative inquiries related to underpayment or nonpayment of wages.
“We’re not going to take this anymore. This is something that happens across the state in many different types of industries,” McCamley said, flanked by a team of investigators who work for the labor agency.
Hacienda del Rio representatives did not immediately return a message left at the corporate office.
State officials identified the business as having had past issues with wage violations. In a previous lawsuit, a district judge found the business was liable for thousands of dollars in back wages owed to four former workers.
State officials say the business and principals David Rosales and Andres Rosales have ignored multiple requests by the state Labor Relations Division for time and pay records.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, District Attorney Raul Torrez and the city of Albuquerque. It’s asking for damages as well as an order to keep the defendants from engaging in illegal pay practices.
The state minimum wage increased from $6.50 to $7.50 in 2009 and will jump to $9 an hour on Jan. 1. Many New Mexico cities have set higher minimum wages, and the law requires employers to pay workers the highest applicable amount.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a former state lawmaker, said enforcement of wage laws is about more than fairness to workers and competing businesses. He and other officials said a chunk of revenue is taken out of the economy when employers short their workers.