Entry-level firefighters in Raton, New Mexico received an unexpected wage increase earlier this month following an increase the state’s minimum wage. Effective January 1, 2020 the State of New Mexico increased its minimum wage from $7.50 to $9.00 per hour. The City of Raton and its firefighters work under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that allows the city to pay entry level firefighters only $8.87 per hour. Paying firefighters an hourly wage less than $9 per hour would result in a violation of the state’s wage and hour laws.
This story serves as a good example of how state and federal wage and hour laws can trump negotiated collective bargaining agreements. Wages prescribed in collective bargaining agreements that are in conflict with the minimum requirements of both state and federal wage and hour regulations will be unenforceable.
For example, here the city negotiated a very low starting wage for city firefighters. This low hourly wage would not be in violation of the federal minimum wage ($7.25), however the State of New Mexico has opted to increase its minimum wage to $9 per hour. Therefore, paying an overtime eligible employee in New Mexico less than $9 per hour will result in a violation of the state’s wage and hour laws, but not necessarily the FLSA.
According to Robert Sanchez, president of the New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Association, the city initially rebuffed his association’s efforts to get the city to increase starting firefighters’ hourly wages to the new minimum wage. In fact, Sanchez reports the city didn’t want to discuss the issue until he contacted local news outlets and they picked up the story.
In an interview with Albuquerque’s KOB 4, Raton City Manager Scott Berry states city firefighters are paid a “competitive wage” and that the $8.87 per hour starting hourly wage rate is actually closer to $13.00 per hour due to the firefighters 56-hour weekly work schedule. Berry further stated he is unsure what impact paying Raton firefighters a higher minimum wage will have on city taxpayers.
Click here is more on the story, from KOB 4.