Commentary: State District Court Judge Raymond Z. Ortiz ruled against Santa Fe restaurant Maki Yaki and its owners for violating New Mexico's Minimum Wage Act and Santa Fe's Living Wage Ordinance. He ordered the restaurant to pay plaintiffs Verónica Velázquez, Juan Torres, and Ivan Hernández nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages and damages. The plaintiffs were represented by Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney at Somos Un Pueblo Unido's United Worker Center of New Mexico, and Santa Fe attorney Carlos Quiñones.
"It has been four years since we initially complained to the City about these violations, but when the City didn't do enough to investigate our claims we decided to file a lawsuit." said Verónica Velázquez a member of Somos' worker center who was employed for six years at the restaurant. "Waiting this long for a resolution was financially hard on our families, but we are thrilled with the outcome. Workers have rights, and when we stick together we can hold our bosses accountable."
The lawsuit, originally filed in First Judicial District Court in May of 2016, argued the restaurant violated city and state wage laws by paying less than the Santa Fe's Living
Wage, not paying overtime, and requiring employees to work off the clock. Maki Yaki closed its doors in 2017.
Juan Torres García, a plaintiff whose total award is $216,932.55 said: "I hope our story inspires workers to organize and stand up for their rights. Employers need to think twice before deciding not to pay what they owe."
Somos Un Pueblo Unido was part of a local coalition to pass Santa Fe's Living Wage ordinance in 2003 and led a legislative campaign in 2009 to strengthen New Mexico's Minimum Wage Act. Somos also waged and settled a lawsuit with other worker's rights organizations against the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions for inadequately enforcing the state's minimum wage laws during the Susana Martinez administration.
"We have strong wage and hour laws on the books, but ensuring our city and state swiftly enforce them is paramount. When they don't, protracted legal fights in court ensue and workers have to wait years to collect their wages." said Ibañez Guzmán. "This decision sends a clear message to businesses they will eventually have to pay their workers. When these cases succeed in court, treble damages and interest will be the consequence."
To see the Judge Ortiz's decision click here.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido is a statewide civil and worker's rights organization. In 2012, Somos founded the United Worker Center of New Mexico to organize and provide support to low-wage workers. The organization has helped workers recoup over 1.2 million dollars in unpaid wages, lost wages, and penalties