DIA workers to push for higher minimum wage

B concourse at Denver International Airport.

Workers at Denver International Airport say they’ll begin a push to raise the minimum wage for airport employees to $15 an hour by 2021.

Backers of the proposed “Denver Airport Minimum Wage Initiative” — including the Unite Here union and activist groups — were announcing Thursday that they will begin collecting petition signatures to place the measure on the ballot in next May’s city election.

The proponents are calling their campaign “$15 for DIA.”

Measure backers would need to collect 4,726 valid voter signatures by Jan. 7 to qualify for the May city ballot. City residents also will choose their next mayor in that election.

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The current statewide minimum wage is $10.20 an hour for workers who don’t get tips, higher than the national rate of $7.25 an hour.

Under statewide voter-approved Amendment 70, which took effect in January 2017, Colorado’s minimum wage is set to rise annually by 90 cents an hour until it reaches $12 per hour in January 2020, and then will be adjusted each year based on changes in the consumer price index for the state.

But backers of the proposed city ballot measure say that a worker earning $10.20 an hour would have to work 85 hours a week to rent a typical one-bedroom apartment in Denver.

They say that currently, more than 6,000 workers at city-owned DIA make less than $15 an hour, and a third of those employees are paid the current minimum wage, based on a union-funded research report.

They want to set a $13 hourly minimum wage in 2019, rising to $15 by 2021.

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The measure would cover employees of concessionaires that operate businesses at the airport, such as shops and restaurants, as well as airport contractors. It would not apply to businesses with fewer than 30 workers.

The Denver Concessionaires Association, representing airport business operators, has expressed concern about the proposal, saying many of its members can’t afford a sharp increase in worker pay because of their often thin profit margins.

A number of cities across the nation have moved to raise local minimum wages, citing the higher cost of living in urban areas. Several airports also have higher minimum wage levels than those in place in surrounding areas.

“Other large airports are fixing this problem,” Kevin Abels, Denver President of Unite Here Local 23, said in a statement. “In cities across the country, airport workers have campaigned for and won higher wages. Denver can do better, too. Denver workers deserve to share in the airport’s success.”

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