City Leaders Look to Increase Minimum Wage

In 2017, Colorado voters approved a phased-in minimum wage increase that reaches $12 per hour in January 2020. Now, Denver is considering pushing beyond that.

Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech crafted a proposal that will increase the minimum wage in Denver to more than $15 an hour by 2022.

The proposal has undergone revision since it was first introduced, and may again before a final vote. Currently, the plan calls for a three step-increase with automatic increases beginning in 2023:

  • $12.85 on Jan. 1, 2020  
  • $14.77 on Jan. 1, 2021 
  • $15.87 on Jan. 1, 2022 
  • Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, wages would increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) 

“Our residents were clear: too many of you are working hard but still unable to make ends meet, and a wage increase is urgent. We heard you, and will proceed in 2020,” said Councilwoman Kniech. “We also heard that a smaller first step and spreading the proposal out over an additional year would help our small, locally-owned businesses better prepare and adapt to higher wages. We heard you, too, and will be making these adjustments.”

Several labor and community organizations have signed on supporting the effort:

“Working families are struggling to stay in the city they help build and maintain, and cost of living increases aren’t waiting another year. By raising the minimum wage, the city is taking an important first step to address the growing crisis of wage inequality. We urge Denver to adopt this strong proposal, which will bring a much-needed raise to 50,000 workers in 2020, helping them pay for rent, heating bills and snow boots for their kids,” said Rhiannon Duryea, political director for the Denver Area Labor Federation and Sunnyside resident.

The proposal isn’t without controversy though, including from some North Denver businesses that would be required to pay more than they expected starting in January.

William Hare, president of Little Colorado on Lipan Street, which makes children’s toys, said he’s fully supportive of a $15 an hour wage but is worried the plan ramps up too quickly. Hare said other cities didn’t jump as quickly, allowing small businesses time to adjust. He’s also concerned that studies the proponents are using to justify the increase compare Denver to others cities with a higher cost of living.

The Colorado Restaurant Association is concerned about how the proposal treats tipped vs non-tipped employees. The restaurant association said the city’s proposal requires full service restaurants to give their highest earners – those “front-of-house” staffers (like servers and bartenders who are typically tipped) — more than a 50% increase in their hourly wage by Jan. 1, 2022.

“This hamstrings restaurateurs in their ability to divert more resources to the kitchen staff, where there’s already a labor shortage. Without a fix to the tip credit, this proposal actually hurts the restaurant industry employees it’s trying to help,” said Colorado Restaurant Association Chief Executive Officer Sonia Riggs.

Statistics released by the city say that 93.5% of minimum wage workers are adults, 51.7% are Latino and 56.1% are women. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in North Denver is approximately $1,500 a month. Two minimum wage workers both working full-time make approximately $4,100 a month before taxes, which means they would spend more than 36% of their pre-tax income on rent. Many recommendations call for rent to be no more than 30% of income and rental companies often require between two to four times the monthly rent total as income to apply.

District 1 (Northwest Denver) Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said she is supportive of the initial 85 cents per hour increase over the state minimum wage, and is glad the city is holding community forums to get more feedback as Hancock and Kniech revise their proposal. Sandoval also expressed concern about the possible idea of paying teenagers less than other workers, noting that many high school students, especially minorities, aren’t working for spending money but rather to help pay family bills and should be paid the same as their adult counterparts.


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