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Conservative group attacks Heinrich and others on minimum wage, internships

By   /   January 28, 2014  /   No Comments

A SHOT FROM THE RIGHT:  A fiscally  conservative group is criticizing Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, for his stance relating to boosting the minimum wage but not paying interns.

A SHOT FROM THE RIGHT: A fiscally conservative group is criticizing Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., for his stance relating to boosting the minimum wage but not paying interns.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — A fiscally conservative policy organization has singled out a number of Capitol Hill Democrats — including Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico — for criticism, contending they’re saying one thing and doing another when it comes to raising the minimum wage.

The Employment Polices Institute sent an analysis Monday saying 96 percent of the sponsors of last year’s Fair Minimum Wage Act don’t pay their congressional interns.

“The vast majority of the bill’s sponsors are legislating with a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach,” said the post, accompanied by the headline, “Maximum Hypocrisy on the Minimum Wage.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama is expected to call for a 40 percent increase in the national minimum wage — to $10.10 an hour from $7.25.

According to EPI, Heinrich is one of the co-sponsors of last year’s bill who doesn’t pay his interns. Heinrich was the only member of the New Mexico congressional delegation to co-sponsor the legislation, which never made it through the Republican-controlled House.

Heinrich’s press office directed New Mexico Watchdog to a link outlining the senator’s policy internship program but did not respond to direct questions confirming whether the EPI post was correct and, if true, whether Heinrich has plans to start paying interns.

New Mexico Watchdog sent emails to the rest of the New Mexico delegation asking members whether they pay their interns.

Jennifer Talhelm, spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Udall, said “internships are unpaid, almost always for current college students, with NM college students given preference, and that many students can get college credit.” She said internship programs pay stipends.

Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the New Mexico delegation, also uses unpaid interns.

“‎He has cut his office budget and saved taxpayers nearly $300,000 over the past three years, but is pleased that interns can still gain experience, receive college credit, or find full time employment through our office,” Pearce spokesman Eric Layer said in an email.

New Mexico Watchdog didn’t get responses from Rep. Ben Ray Luján or Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, both Democrats who have expressed support for raising the minimum wage.

Pearce has come out against raising the minimum wage. “A national minimum wage set to meet the income level of New York City or San Francisco would only punish the economy of Las Cruces or Silver City,” Layer said.

The question of paying interns has become an issue among liberal groups, who say the practice amounts to providing free labor and exploits college students, young people and is unfair to poorer students who can’t take unpaid internships, while the more affluent can.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.