Albuquerque seeks to give hazard pay to frontline workers

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Albuquerque plans on giving frontline workers hazard pay for what they did during the pandemic. Mayor Tim Keller on Tuesday signed off on $3 million from the American Rescue Plan to go to essential workers as so-called “one-time premium pay.”

The police union said that money was earned, but suspect they won’t be getting enough. They are still hoping the city signs a memorandum of understanding for those covid payments.

“It really falls short for the work, dedication, and sacrifice of not only police officers but firefighters and city employees that really did their best to do everything they could to provide service to the city of Albuquerque,” Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby stated.

The city said it’s still in negotiations with bargaining units about how this money would be divided up.

State Auditor Brian Colon said the plan for the city and all government entities could depend on how the bonuses are classified or paid because it can’t be retroactive pay because that can lead to an abuse of power.

“We really run into problems with our constitution and some of the governance of these funds when we talk about retroactive bonuses or compensation enhancements. Those things really have to be contemplated in advance and be prospective as opposed to retrospective,” Colon said. “Every approach forward has to be evaluated on its own, so without having those documents or exact approach in front of me, it’s difficult for me to give an exact answer. But, we encourage all governmental entities to make sure they look to their funding source and the guidelines associated with that before they take action.”

The city says these retroactive payments are hazard pay, and not bonuses.

The state already wrestled with this problem after granting bonuses to Roundhouse employees who had to work at the Capitol through the pandemic. Senate Bill 439 would give $300 bonuses from legislative cash balances.

“How we put the bonus language in is the biggest issue so we will still pay that. It will not be a bonus. It will maybe be a part of ordinary pay. Counsel is still trying to figure that out,” Sen. George Munoz of Gallup said.

Sen. Munoz added they don’t want to violate the state constitution.

“You cannot provide advanced compensation for work that’s already been completed,” Colon said, referencing Article IV, Section 27 of the state Constitution.

KRQE News 13 asked the mayor’s office which essential workers would be getting the hazard pay and how much, but have not gotten an answer besides saying frontline workers who worked through the pandemic and had continued interactions with the public.

The state auditor used a separate anti-donation clause in the state constitution to determine Albuquerque Public Schools couldn’t give $1,000 bonuses to give staff for working through the pandemic.

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