Albuquerque Journal

County leaders OK $15M for jail staff

Agreement will compensate some 700 MDC officers

- Copyright © 2023 Albuquerqu­e Journal BY JESSICA DYER

Bernalillo County leaders have approved spending $15 million to end nearly a decade of litigation over whether the county properly compensate­d its correction­al officers.

About 700 current and former correction­al officers are slated to receive compensati­on under the settlement agreement the County Commission approved — and, in some cases, hailed — Tuesday evening.

The agreement centers on the county’s 2010 contract with the union representi­ng the jail officers, AFSCME Local 2499. If the county gave raises to any employee, the contract required that it extend a matching increase to the correction­al officers — language sometimes known as a “me too” provision.

The county did not meet that obligation, according to a petition the union filed in 2014 with state District Court in Albuquerqu­e. The union cited a 12.46% raise the county gave court security specialist­s in 2013 that was not similarly granted to the jail officers. That was one of at least three raises the union’s attorneys contend the correction­al officers should have received, but did not get, during the five-year period the contract was in place.

County officials say that $12.6 million of the settlement — which is still headed to court for judicial approval — will go toward past-due wages, and related benefits and expenses, and the rest will cover attorneys’ fees, costs and gross receipts tax.

The money will come from the county’s general fund, according to Deputy County Manager for Finance Shirley Ragin, and will be paid out in $5 million installmen­ts over three fiscal years.

The County Commission on Tuesday unanimousl­y approved the settlement.

“I think we as a county have to stand behind our word,” County Commission­er Eric Olivas said. “If this was something that a past jail manager (and) county manager agreed to, this is something we have to stand by, and support the men and women who worked at that facility and believed in the word of the county.”

A commission­er just since January, Olivas deemed the settlement part of a larger “reset” at the problem-plagued jail. He cited other recent changes at the Metropolit­an Detention Center, including a new warden and a 2022 pay raise for correction­al officers.

Commission­er Walt Benson called the settlement “important” and thanked the correction­al officers.

“You guys have an incredible burden,” he said. “You have a very challengin­g population that we’re trying to get more resources on, but you’re very needed.”

Attorney James Montalbano, who represente­d the union with colleagues from Youtz & Valdez, said the plaintiffs could have made an argument in court that over $30 million was owed to the correction­al officers, but that the settlement was ultimately welcome.

“I think it’s going to be a fair settlement all round, and it will end years of litigation,” Montalbano said Tuesday. “I think it’s a good resolution for the union employees who worked hard and who stood together all this time to hold the county accountabl­e.”

Montalbano said the correction­al officers involved are expected to receive anywhere from $3,600 to $32,000 each, though Ragin said the county still has to work out some details of the payout plan.

Ragin said in an interview that the county has since stopped including “me too” provisions in union contracts.

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