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TUES: NM reaches settlement in 2017 wage-theft complaint, + More

New Mexico Workforce Solutions Secretary Sarita Nair
Courtesy New Mexico PBS
New Mexico Workforce Solutions Secretary Sarita Nair

New Mexico reaches settlement in 2017 wage-theft complaint after prolonged legal battle– Associated Press

New Mexico labor regulators on Tuesday announced a legal settlement that resolves longstanding accusations of unpaid wages against a restaurant business in northwestern New Mexico.

The Workforce Solutions Department said in a news release that 505 Burgers Farmington LLC has agreed to pay out $100,000 to resolve claims by two former employees that they received only a small portion of the wages they were due for more than 3,000 hours of work, including overtime.

The settlement resolves a complaint originally filed in 2017 by Francisco and Sandra Olivas with the state labor relations division that wound its way through an administrative investigation before going to trial in 2022. The New Mexico Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by the employer before a final settlement was reached.

505 Burgers owner Morgan Newsom declined to comment on the settlement when contacted Tuesday.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Sarita Nair said her agency strives to provide education and training to businesses to ensure employees are paid fairly.

"But when prevention does not work, our capable team will pursue these cases for workers, no matter how long it takes," she said in a statement.

New Mexico workplace regulators have struggled in the past to keep pace with complaints of alleged wage theft linked to enforcement of the state's minimum wage law.

The state labor relations division said it collected more than $689,000 during the 12-month period ending in June 2023 for New Mexico workers claiming underpayment or nonpayment of wages. Most of the complaints have raised allegations of unpaid overtime, failure to pay minimum wage and an employer withholding a final paycheck.

Commissioners try to revisit controversial process to hire county manager - Carolyn Carlson, City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

If at first you don’t succeed — try again.

Bernalillo County Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada and Walt Benson will try to get a controversial resolution on the agenda for the commission’s Tuesday meeting to allow it to revisit the process to hire a county manager.

The two commissioners will need some help from their colleagues to put a new resolution on the agenda to establish a process for the selection of the county manager. In addition, they will try to get a recent memorandum from the county’s compliance officer on the agenda, which recommended the commission redo an earlier vote for a competing resolution. Current County Manager Julie Morgas Baca will retire at the end of June.

Quezada left that meeting in a huff during a discussion of that resolution introduced by Chairwoman Barbara Baca. The resolution passed without Quezada present. He also was not present when his resolution was up for discussion, and it died for a lack of a second.

In the meantime, a closed meeting of the county manager search committee that was approved at the last meeting will hold its first meeting on Thursday.

In other Bernalillo County business, commissioners are set to:

  • Authorize $49.5 million in taxable industrial revenue bonds for Array Technologies, which provides support for solar farm installation and operation. Another $250,000 in Local Economic Development Act funding is set to be approved as well.
  • Reallocate $9.5 million in the American Rescue Plan Act, informally known as COVID funding. Of that pot, $5.2 million will go toward improving the Rio Bravo Boulevard and Second Street intersection, $3 million will go toward improving the Alameda Drain Trail and $750,000 will be used for the South Valley Economic Development Center addition. 
  • Discuss how to decriminalize mental illness by looking at “The Miami Model” which diverts defendants with mental illness away from the criminal justice system and into comprehensive community-based treatment and support services.
  • Adopt the annual, non prohibitive license tax in the unincorporated areas of the county on liquor licenses. The tax is proposed to be $250 per license, $150 per hearing and canopy tax and a $25 per day special permit.

WHEN: 5 p.m. April 23
WHERE: Ken Sanchez Commission Chambers at 415 Silver Ave SW VIRTUAL: GOV-TV or online at the county’s website or on Bernalillo County’s YouTube channel

Torrance County to vote on extending ICE prison contract - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico 

Torrance County’s elected officials will meet Wednesday to vote on whether to extend a contract allowing the federal government to incarcerate asylum seekers in central New Mexico.
The agenda for tomorrow’s Torrance County Commission meeting includes a request from County Manager Janice Barela to sign an amendment to the contract between the county government and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which governs operations at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.

The contract expires May 14.

Reached for comment on Monday, Barela said ICE is asking for an extension rather than a new contract.

“It’s not our choice on that,” Barela said. “I think they’re needing additional time to prepare the agreement. The goal is to work toward a new agreement.”

The agenda packet posted on the county’s website does not include a copy of the amendment. Barela said she hopes to have a copy available on Wednesday.

As of Monday morning, there were 246 people detained by ICE in Torrance, Barela said.

People at the previous county commission meeting on April 10 read testimony from 12 asylum seekers held inside the Torrance County Detention Facility, or who were previously held there.

The testimonies described unfair asylum proceedings, allegations of abuse by guards, inadequate medical care, unfair wages for labor done inside, bug-infested and rotting food, dirty drinking water, unkempt clothing, and a lack of sunlight and fresh air.

They are the latest accounts of inhumane conditions reported by people detained inside the Torrance detention center. Last year, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) joined others who have called for Torrance to stop incarcerating people for federal immigration violations. This followed a 2022 inspection by the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General that called on the facility to close.

People who want to give public comment to the commissioners at the meeting Wednesday can do so in-person or online.

The commission meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at 205 S. Ninth Street in Estancia.

It will be livestreamed over Zoom, and the link can be found here.

Once county commissioners start the meeting, they can rearrange its agenda, so public comment may not necessarily start promptly at 9 a.m.

APD officer hits pedestrian while chasing carjacking suspect - City Desk ABQ Staff Report

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

An Albuquerque Police officer struck a pedestrian during a high-speed chase involving a carjacking suspect.

Around 2 pm, APD officers responded to an armed carjacking at 8100 San Joaquin Ave. Police say the suspect tried to steal one person’s vehicle and then took another person’s vehicle at gunpoint.

Officers in the Southeast Area Command responded and started searching for the alleged suspect driving the stolen vehicle. The vehicle was located and a pursuit ensued to take the suspect into custody.

During the pursuit, an officer struck a pedestrian. The pedestrian was transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Additional officers took the carjacking suspect into custody near the intersection of San Mateo Blvd. and Haines Ave. NE

The incident is under investigation.

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law - By Hannah Grover,New Mexico Political Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS.

PFOA is the chemical that DuPont formerly used to make Teflon while PFOS was used as an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. According to the Environmental Working Group, which has advocated for PFAS regulation and cleanup, those products were phased out in the United States due to concerns about health risks.

“The rule will finally hold PFAS polluters accountable,” Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president for government affairs, said in a press release. “It ensures that polluters, not taxpayers, bear the cost of cleaning up these toxic forever chemicals.”

While PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, the American Cancer Society says people can still be exposed to them because they are still used in other countries and may be imported in products manufactured in other countries.

The EPA says the classification of the two chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, will make it easier to ensure the parties responsible for PFAS contamination pay to clean it up.

The designation comes as part of the EPA’s efforts to address PFAS contamination, which started with the launch of a PFAS strategic roadmap in 2021.

Some wastewater utilities and landfills have expressed concern that the new designation will lead to them being forced to pay for PFAS contamination from waste products that enter their systems.

Because of those concerns, the EPA issued a separate CERCLA enforcement discretion policy.

“EPA will focus on holding responsible entities who significantly contributed to the release of PFAS into the environment, including parties that manufactured PFAS or used PFAS in the manufacturing process, federal facilities, and other industrial parties,” this policy states. “EPA does not intend to pursue entities where equitable factors do not support seeking response actions or costs under CERCLA, including, but not limited to, community water systems and publicly owned treatment works, municipal separate storm sewer systems, publicly owned/operated municipal solid waste landfills, publicly owned airports and local fire departments, and farms where biosolids are applied to the land.”

Addressing PFAS contamination is also part of President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, which aims to reduce the rates of cancer.

Dr. Tracey Woodruff is the director of the University of California San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and Environment and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences as well as the director of the Environmental Research and Translation for Health, or EaRTH Center at UCSF.

She said in a press release that the designation is “another important step by EPA to protect people and communities from harmful PFAS chemicals, including legacy PFAS contamination across the U.S.”

In New Mexico, PFAS chemicals have been documented in rivers downstream from urban areas and in groundwater near military bases and airports.

In a statement, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said his agency applauds the EPA for “taking important steps to protect people from the health risks posed by PFOA and PFOS in communities across the nation.”

However, Kenney said more actions are needed to protect New Mexicans from PFAS.

“In New Mexico, communities will not be safe from PFAS pollution until the U.S. Department of Defense commits to following rules and taking responsibility for cleaning up the groundwater around their Air Force Bases,” he said, referencing groundwater contamination near bases that has led to legal disputes between the Department of Defense and the state.

PFAS chemicals are prevalent throughout the world due to their widespread use. They can be found in nonstick cookware, upholstery, carpets, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, fire suppression foams and other places.

“The science is clear that PFAS chemicals are linked to a wide range of health harms including cancer, damage to cardiovascular and immune systems, poor pregnancy outcomes, and effects on the developing child,” Woodruff said. “By listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund Law, it means that these chemicals will have to be cleaned up from hazardous waste sites and polluters must pay the bill. This is great news for the many communities grappling with PFAS contamination – many of which are also low income and communities of color. This is another step toward protecting people from the health harms of this well-known toxic chemical.”

Liz Hitchcock, the director of the federal policy program of Toxic-Free Future known as Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, described the designation as “an important step forward that will go a long way toward holding PFAS polluters accountable and beginning to clean up contaminated sites across the country.”

But, Hitchcock said in a press release, more needs to be done. She said the “full class of PFAS” should be designated as hazardous. There are nearly 15,000 PFAS chemicals, which are man-made substances that don’t break down easily in natural environments.

Hitchcock said that further pollution should be prevented by ending the use of PFAS in common products.

“President Biden understands the threat that ‘forever chemicals’ pose to the health of families across the country. That’s why EPA launched its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a whole-of-agency approach to protecting public health and addressing the harm to communities overburdened by PFAS pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release. “Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities.”

The designation of the two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances comes on the back of the EPA setting drinking water standards for some of the more common PFAS chemicals earlier this month, including PFOA and PFOS.

Meanwhile, researchers at places like Sandia National Laboratories are looking for cost-effective ways to remove PFAS chemicals from drinking water.