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Improving the Economic Security of New Mexico’s Poorest Workers

 

Lead: New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

Key Partners: Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, Help New Mexico, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Colonias Development Council, Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, LLP, and the Law Offices of Nancy L. Simmons. 

Project Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico — Statewide 

Contact: Gail Evans, Legal Director, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, gail@nmpovertylaw.org or (505) 255-2840

Project Description:

Wage theft threatens workers' economic security and health. On top of dangerous working conditions, unsafe housing, and lack of medical care, New Mexico’s 15,000 agricultural workers are far too frequently cheated out of earnings by their employers. Poor farm and dairy workers—who earn an annual average of $6,000 and $18,000 respectively—often are unable to file wage and hour or unemployment claims before the state Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) even though they have the right to do so. The risks of forgoing needed medical care and becoming bankrupt over medical bills increase when poor workers are not paid for work performed or at the promised rate.    

Under the grant, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and its partners will help agricultural workers get the pay they are entitled to and ensure that the DWS is properly enforcing state labor laws. Resolving these issues helps to ensure workers have access to fair and adequate pay, which increases their economic security and improves health. They also want employers to be held accountable for wage theft and administering unemployment benefits correctly. The project builds on earlier efforts by the Center to successfully extend workers' compensation rights to agricultural workers, and their support of a 2009 law that extended worker protection from wage theft and further penalizes employers withholding compensation. 

Although the law is strong, it is ignored. Grantees will work to ensure that the state agency responsible for these issues changes its current policies and practices and begins properly enforcing employment and compensation laws. This project will address the issue of wage theft and barriers to unemployment benefit claims that deprive workers of compensation. 

Matching funds for this grant will be provided by Public Welfare Foundation.

Why this work is important:

  • Wage theft threatens workers’ economic security and health.

  • The risks of forgoing needed medical care and becoming bankrupt over medical bills increase when poor workers are not paid for work performed or at the promised rate.

  • Although the existing law is strong, many are unable to take advantage of these protections.

Relevant Information from the 2014 County Health Rankings:

  • Statewide, almost four out of 10 children live in single-parent households and almost three out of 10 live in poverty.

  • In Los Alamos County (the healthiest county), 4 percent of children live in poverty while 37 percent of children live in poverty in Quay County (the least healthy county).

  • Statewide, 23 percent of adults are uninsured.

  • Only 5 percent of Los Alamos County residents are uninsured; in Quay County, 22 percent of residents are uninsured.