Mayor, City Council Unveil $15 Minimum Wage Plan for Denver

Mayor Michael Hancock unveiled a $15-per-hour minimum-wage proposal in front of the City and County Building on September 19.
Mayor Michael Hancock unveiled a $15-per-hour minimum-wage proposal in front of the City and County Building on September 19. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Come January, Denver may become the first city in Colorado to raise its minimum wage for all workers. Today, September 19, Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech unveiled their plan to increase the minimum wage to $13.80 per hour by 2020 and $15.87 per hour by 2021.

"Our goal is for every one of our residents to be able to access the success and opportunity our city has experienced over the last eight years," Hancock said at a press conference outside the City and County Building, where he was joined by five members of city council.

Council will consider the proposal in November. If the resolution passes, the first wage increase would take effect January 1, which is also when a state law raising the statewide minimum wage from $11.10 to $12 takes effect. (The law allows municipalities to raise the minimum wage for workers in their jurisdictions.)

The national minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009, with some states only offering a dollar or so more. As housing prices have increased in recent years, activists have taken to petitioning their local and statewide officials for higher wages.

"This is a conversation that should've happened years ago in Congress. But in their failure to act, we've decided to act here in Denver, Colorado," Hancock said.

The push to increase the minimum wage in Denver comes after the city announced earlier this year that it would offer city workers $15 by 2021. Should the initiative pass, more than 100,000 workers in the public and private sector would see higher wages by 2021, according to the Bell Policy Center.

The wage increase would alleviate but not solve Denver's affordability crisis; $15 per hour is still well below what's required to cover the average cost of an apartment, let alone groceries, transportation and other living expenses.

The state law stipulates that municipalities can only increase the minimum wage in yearly increments of 15 percent or $1.75 per hour, whichever is higher. For Denver, two years of 15 percent increases on top of the $12 statewide minimum wage means that the city's minimum wage will hit $15.87 by 2021. In years after that, the minimum wage will increase in relation to the consumer price index, an economic measure that looks at the cost of goods and services. That means the minimum wage will increase 20 to 40 cents per year, according to Kniech.

At the press conference, Kniech, who is leading the initiative in council, referred to a minimum-wage increase as "racial justice" and "gender equity" in action. Workforce projections for 2021 show that the increase will raise the wages of about 30 percent of women workers. About 40 and 50 percent of Latino and black workers, respectively, will receive higher wages over the next two years.

The state law does not allow exemptions for small businesses and also applies to part-time workers. It also stipulates that employers can lower the wages of tipped employees by about three dollars below the minimum wage, since any losses could be made up through tips.

As they finalize the bill, the mayor's office and council will collect feedback from businesses and workers over the next few months. Hancock and Kniech said that because unemployment is so low, businesses will benefit from the increase, since it will make minimum-wage jobs more attractive.

Denver's auditor will handle enforcement of the minimum wage in Denver, and workers who believe they've been underpaid will be able to submit complaints to the office. Employers who violate minimum-wage laws may be subject to daily fines.

Even though Denver will be the first city in Colorado to have a minimum wage at or above $15 by 2021, it wouldn't be the first in the U.S. to do so. Thirteen other cities or counties already have a minimum wage that is at or above $15, and twelve cities or counties and three states have passed legislation that will bring minimum compensation to or above $15 per hour in the coming years, according to the City of Denver.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.