1,000 cases remain as New Mexico issues back pay to state employees as part of settlement

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — New Mexico's personnel office has issued checks to thousands of state workers who were owed back pay under a 2013 court ruling but about 1,000 cases still need to be sorted out.

State officials cited the complicated nature of the remaining cases as the reason the process has taken longer than expected, but union officials said Tuesday the state appears to be dragging its feet.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled two years ago that about 10,000 current or former employees were entitled to retroactive pay increases because former Gov. Bill Richardson's administration didn't follow union contracts on distributing money for raises provided by the Legislature.

Gov. Susana Martinez said last September that the workers would finally get their money. Her announcement followed an expected June 2014 payout date that came and went.

Within a month, the state issued 4,200 checks, but officials later said they were struggling to calculate the amounts and extended a contract with an accounting firm to help process payments.

The state has paid the firm $1.8 million so far and more than 9,000 checks have been issued, but payments to the workers have slowed to a trickle, said Miles Conway, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Conway estimates at least one-fifth of the $30 million settlement has yet to be paid and it could take several more months based on the current rate of issuing checks.

"That's a lot of money that's owed to people that would go into the pockets of working New Mexicans who would go out and spend it," he said.

Frustration with the long process has been mounting, and Conway said union members have questions about how the state is calculating the amounts.

The State Personnel Office is taking into consideration an employee's base pay and the number of hours worked. The formula gets more complicated in cases where the employee changed jobs or was promoted and base salary changed as a result.

"We are still working through the most complex cases," said Joseph Cueto, a spokesman for the personnel office.

The agency offered no timeline for when it will finish issuing checks. The settlement does not include a deadline for completing the process.

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