Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's office confirmed that city leaders are meeting next week with stakeholders, including the Colorado Restaurant Association, to deliver a decision regarding the city’s next minimum wage increase, which is scheduled for Jan. 1, and could impact more than 70,000 Denver workers.
A spokesman for the mayor told Colorado Politics it is “possible to delay” the implementation, which will require approval from the Denver City Council. The wage hike would have to be postponed for a full year, however, because increases can only occur on Jan. 1, as required by state constitution.
Last year, Hancock and Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech pushed forward a bill that raised the minimum wage for workers in Denver, beginning in 2020. Wages are scheduled to rise from $12.85 an hour this year to $14.77 in 2021, then again to $15.87 in 2022, with annual adjustments made each year thereafter.
The legislation, which was approved unanimously last November by the Denver City Council, was intended to “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,” Hancock said at the time, months before the COVID-19 pandemic overtook the city.
Restaurant owners, who feared at the time that the wage increases could put them out of business, are now facing even greater challenges. Many of them are barely getting by due to capacity restrictions and argue that a minimum wage hike coupled with the coronavirus will ensure their doors shutter.
Low-income workers and families, on the other hand, are desperate for cash in the face of a crushing recession and soaring housing costs. Meanwhile, the city’s homelessness crisis is growing.
Denver officials say that navigating the pandemic is a constant "balancing act," and one they don't take lightly.
"The Mayor and I have worked as partners on the local minimum wage and continue to consult on the feedback and questions we receive," Kniech wrote in an email. "There are no plans or proposals at this time, but as pending conversations wrap up, we'll stay in touch and I'll work with him to address any remaining questions at that time."
The Colorado Restaurant Association is "imploring" the council to delay the minimum wage increase until at least 2022.
"According to data collected mid-pandemic, 42% of restaurants would be forced to lay off at least 10% of their staff if this increase happens," Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the CRA, told Colorado Politics. "That's on top of what is rapidly becoming a catastrophic situation: With Denver entering Level Red and being forced to shutdown indoor dining again, we could lose a quarter of the restaurants in this city within the next month, and nearly 60% in less than 3 months.
"We're going to see mass layoffs and furloughs as soon as dining rooms are closed — in fact, we’ve already started seeing them as soon as the announcement was made for the 15 counties moving into Level Red," Riggs warned. "We ask the Council to consider what Denver will look like with a quarter or half of its restaurants missing — it's not going to feel like Denver anymore — and do everything they can to alleviate the burdens facing these essential community players rather than adding more costs to their ledgers."
Editor's note: This article has been revised to clarify information initially provided by the mayor's office.