Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is interested in setting a minimum wage of $15 an hour for thousands of city employees and other people who work with the city, his office announced Tuesday.
He said in a news release that he would ask city staffers to “explore increasing starting pay” over several years. The change could apply to direct employees, contractors, vendors’ employees and people who work for private companies at city facilities like Red Rocks or Denver International Airport.
The city will talk with employers, workers and other community stakeholders, Hancock’s office. The mayor, who is up for re-election in May, will review findings and recommendations early in 2019.
“While unemployment is low and Denver’s economy is among the strongest in the country, wage growth has not kept pace with a rising cost of living,” Hancock said in the written statement. “Lower- and middle-income workers are struggling to get by. … I believe we have an opportunity here to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”
Hancock could unilaterally raise wages for city employees, but the Denver City Council would have to approve a rate hike for contractors and others, according to city staff.
City officials count roughly 1,900 city employees who earn less than $15 an hour, including lifeguards, maintenance staff and other part-time and seasonal workers. The city also estimates there are thousands of contractor employees and other city-connected workers.
The city government’s minimum wage currently mirrors the statewide minimum of $10.20, which is set to rise to $12 in 2020. Denver also has a prevailing wage requirement, which sets the pay rates for contractor employees, but it does not include a $15 minimum.
Meanwhile, organizers are trying to raise the minimum wage for private employees at Denver International Airport. A ballot initiative submitted for the May 2019 election, but not yet approved, would raise airport wages for many businesses at the airport to $15 by 2021.
Teresita Felix, a United Airlines worker who is a leader of that campaign, praised Hancock’s decision as “exciting news,” saying that her low wages have forced her and her daughter to share a house with 20 people, according to a news release from an organizer.