Bernalillo County, located in the state of New Mexico, has been embroiled in a legal dispute with its correctional officers for almost a decade over whether they were properly compensated. However, that dispute has now come to an end as county leaders have approved a settlement worth $15 million to pay back wages owed to approximately 700 current and former correctional officers.
The agreement was approved by the County Commission on Tuesday evening, with some members of the commission hailing the settlement. The settlement centers on the county’s contract with the union representing the jail officers, AFSCME Local 2499, which was signed in 2010. The contract contained a provision stating that if the county gave raises to any employee, it must extend a matching increase to the correctional officers.
However, the county failed to meet this obligation, according to a petition filed by the union in 2014 with state District Court in Albuquerque. The union cited a 12.46% raise that was given to court security specialists in 2013, which was not similarly granted to the correctional officers. The union’s attorneys argued that the correctional officers should have received at least three raises during the five-year period the contract was in place but did not receive them.
Under the settlement agreement, $12.6 million will go towards past-due wages, benefits, and related expenses, with the remaining amount covering attorneys’ fees, costs, and gross receipts tax. The money will be paid out in $5 million installments over three fiscal years, with the county’s general fund covering the costs.
Deputy County Manager for Finance, Shirley Ragin, explained that the county still has to work out some details of the payout plan, but the correctional officers involved are expected to receive anywhere from $3,600 to $32,000 each. Ragin also noted that the county has since stopped including “me too” provisions in union contracts.
County Commissioner Eric Olivas believes that the settlement is part of a larger “reset” at the jail and that the county needs to stand behind its word. Commissioner Walt Benson called the settlement “important” and thanked the correctional officers for their hard work.
Attorney James Montalbano, who represented the union with colleagues from Youtz & Valdez, said the plaintiffs could have argued in court that over $30 million was owed to the correctional officers but that the settlement was ultimately welcome. He believes that the settlement will be a fair resolution for the union employees who worked hard and stood together to hold the county accountable.
In conclusion, the settlement marks the end of a long legal dispute between Bernalillo County and its correctional officers, bringing closure to the case and providing compensation for those affected.