Denver City and County Building

The Denver City and County Building.

Like it or not, Denverites, a citywide minimum wage will kick off this January in an effort to level the playing field for 90,000 people who live and work in the city.

The ordinance passed by Denver City Council on Monday evening in an 11 to 0 vote. Council members Chris Herndon and Stacie Gilmore were absent.

Council members are expected to pass the measure, which will position Denver as the first Colorado municipality to raise its own minimum wage. Workers would see their wages rise to $12.85 per hour beginning New Year’s Day.

The ordinance, proposed by Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech, ensures that minimum wage workers will receive nearly $16 an hour by 2022. The wage hike rolls out over three years, beginning at $12.85 at the start of 2020 and increasing to $14.77 in 2021.

Once the minimum wage hits $15.87 in 2022, it will be contingent upon the consumer price index, which measures cost-of-living factors such as transportation and health care.

“While Denver’s economy has thrived over the past few years, our economy still does not work for everyone,” Hancock said in a statement Monday night. “This increase to Denver’s minimum wage will provide a little bit of relief for those who are struggling the most — families who must choose between putting food on the table and paying rent or buying medicine.”

“Tonight is about getting parents a few extra hours with their kids,” Kniech said. “It’s about making ends meet. It’s about the chance to stay in your city that you love.”

About 50,000 Denverites will benefit from the wage hike in 2020, and 90,000 workers will receive a raise by 2022, according to the proposal. Nearly two-thirds of them are people of color, and more than half of are women.

The path was paved in May when the state Legislature passed a Democrat-backed bill allowing local governments to set their own minimum wages, as long as it exceeds the state minimum wage of $11.10 per hour.

The Colorado Restaurant Association is opposed to the law and has threatened to sue Denver over the law. The group says the rules create issues around the amount paid to dishwashers and chefs versus servers, who can make more because of the tips they receive.

Small business owners have also opposed the new law and say that having to pay workers higher wages will put them out of business.

“This is going to be difficult for small business, and I think we need to acknowledge that,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, a co-sponsor of the bill. However, “the price of subsidizing the social costs that we’ve been doing … [have] been pretty difficult also.”

The proposal was first paved in May when the state Legislature passed a Democrat-backed bill that allowed local governments to set their own minimum wages if it exceeds the state minimum wage of $11.10 an hour.

The first “catch-up step” of Denver’s new minimum wage ordinance is 95 cents lower than the amount initially proposed, symbolic of a compromise with small business owners, who expressed their disapproval of the measure during a series of town halls.

The revised proposal now requires Denver employers to pay hourly employees $12.85 beginning New Year’s Day. Come 2021, wages will increase to $14.77 and again to $15.87 at the start of 2022.

“This is a milestone moment for our city,” Hancock said. “This is a proud moment for Denver.”

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