City Council Passes Minimum Wage Increase

Last night, Denver City Council passed a phased-in minimum wage increase that will bring Denver to nearly $16 an hour over the next three years. Proponents Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech changed the proposal since its initial introduction, slowing later increases in response to business concerns, but keeping the initial increase that takes effect in January. During the council meeting, Kniech said 50,000 workers will see a raise of 85 cents more than the state minimum come January.  She said a total of 90,000 workers will see an increase by 2022.

The approved increase will happen in three steps, with subsequent increases tied to the consumer price index:

  • $12.85 on Jan. 1, 2020  
  • $14.77 on Jan. 1, 2021 
  • $15.87 on Jan. 1, 2022 
  • Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, wages will 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 other key parts of the legislation were modified, including whether minors were entitled to the same wages as adults. Ultimately, a carve-out was created for unemancipated minors enrolled in certified training programs that are also considered educational in nature, who can be paid up to 15% less than the city minimum wage. Programs must include other training or education outside of work hours. All other minors are treated the same as adult workers.

Another point of consensus was an amendment added by Councilman Chris Hinds that ensures workers with disabilities cannot be paid less than others. Currently, federal law allows workers with disabilities to be paid subminimum wage salary in some instances, though pending legislation to increase the federal minimum wage could eliminate that exemption.

Public testimony was heavily on the side of proponents, including several minimum wage workers, State Senator Jessie Danielson (D-Jefferson County) who was one of the sponsors of the state legislation that allows municipalities to increase the minimum wage, a small restaurant owner, and spokespeople for numerous civic organizations. One minimum wage worker, Laurie Bells, began crying during her testimony, saying this will make her less reliant on food banks.

While no organizations opposed to the measure spoke during public testimony, several business organizations expressed concerns during the process, especially prior to the increases being stretched over additional time.

During council’s comments, Councilwoman Jamie Torres highlighted the racial inequity in wages, noting how Latino and Black workers are disproportionately paid less and will benefit from the effort. 

North Denver Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval talked about working in a restaurant (La Casita) growing up. “I understand what minimum wage is. When employees are paid well, they enjoy a better mental state… performance is improved,” she said. 

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said the bill was “a step in the right direction,” but noted how many residents would continue to struggle after the increase, calling for the city to do more going forward.

Council unanimously passed the measure 11-0, with two councilmembers absent from Monday’s meeting.


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