AFSCME Council 18

Valencia County Commissioners Hear Blue Collar Appeal for Decent Wages

Robert Gallegos President Local 1382, at Valencia County Commission Meeting in July

Lowest Paid County Workers in NM Resort to Public Assistance to Make Ends Meat While Delivering Substantial Project Savings to County

When Valencia County Commissioners identified Palomas Road and Avenida Valencia for improvement, the costs to complete the work through county contractors Albuquerque Asphalt ran into the hundreds of thousands. Public works director Kelly Bouska had a better idea; Valencia County’s own blue collar employees had the skills and equipment to do the job themselves, and at a significant savings for taxpayers.

“This was an opportunity to showcase our road crew’s skills, the men and women of Valencia County public works have the expertise to do the work,” said Bouska, “and I knew we could save the county money by completing the job in house.”

Despite lacking some modern advanced equipment, men like Robert Gallegos, Heavy Haul Truck Driver and President of Valencia County Local 1382, and Joe Sanchez, Fleet Mechanic, were able to dust off and rehabilitate county owned machinery to complete much of the road work. The county saved around $54,000 in tax payer money on the Avenida Valencia project alone by employing in-house know how. [at time of press, the county hasn’t added up costs savings for Palomas]

What should have been recognized as a chapter of fiscal heroism by Valencia County’s Public Works department went largely unnoticed by the community despite Commissioner Holliday’s efforts at a press event.

During July’s commissioners meeting Commissioner Alicia Aguilar took time to thank members of Local 1382 for a job well done. “I trust and feel confident in the exemplary work that Valencia County’s frontline employees do. They’re a great asset who’s talent and skills we tend not to recognize enough.”

Members of AFSCME Local 1382 attended the July 17 commission meeting and asked commissioners to consider budgeting a wage increase, one of the final hurdles standing between the 35 blue collar workers and their contract.

Following a great deal of hemming and hawing on some councilors part, it was revealed that a raise for the 35 Local 1382 Blue Collar Employees would set the county back an affordable $60-70 thousand annually and narrow the livable wage gap which Valencia’s dedicated public employees contend with.

Valencia Blue Collar Workers have the distinction of being among the lowest paid blue collar county employees in the state. According to Labor statistics, some jobs are paid 33% below market or surrounding county rates. Even with full time jobs, many county employees resort to public assistance to care for their families. A high percentage of workers find it impossible to afford insurances offered by the county.

During public comment, Commissioner Aguilar pointed out that a county grant writer position had been created and funded for $62,000 annually during the June Commission meeting; a cost that could almost cover the proposed wage increase. A member of the community who had spent some time combing the public record reported that certain commissioners were behind in there taxes to the tune of over $20 thousand. In defense, “Tax-lightning” was the culprit, but the significance was not lost on the packed council chambers that a modest raise was affordable for the county and essential to retain skilled workers.

At time of press, one of Valencia’s all-star fleet mechanics announced that he would be resigning having been offered a position outside Valencia County at better pay. “These personnel losses are costing Valencia County more dearly than the raise we’re seeking,” commented AFSCME Staff Rep and Negotiator Rob Trombley.

AFSCME Local 1382 President Robert Gallegos said, "It’s time for fair and decent wages that will allow us to raise our families in the county with dignity and quality of life. We know that Valencia County had the second worst dip in employment in the state last year. If we're going to retain our skilled workers, attract businesses, and bring more good jobs to our county, you've got to start with the foundation. That is us, public employees looking after our community's infrastructure. AFSCME Local 1382 members are dedicated to performing the work and the community depends on it getting done.”

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