County leaders OK $15M for jail staff
Agreement will compensate some 700 MDC officers
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.