Denver Mayor Floats $15 Minimum Wage For City Workers

<p>(Stephanie Wolf/CPR News)</p>
<p>Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at his office on Nov. 8, 2017.</p>
Photo: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at his office on Nov. 8, 2017.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday he’s exploring the idea of setting a $15-per-hour minimum wage for city workers and some others.

Hancock said the wage boost would affect about 2,500 city employees, mostly election judges, recreation center staffers, parks and recreation workers, and administrative assistants at libraries. It would also include those who work for businesses that operate in city facilities, and would be phased in over a number of years.

“If we can find a pathway forward I've instructed a team to keep politics out of it, and focus on how we can help our employees," the mayor said in an interview.

The current minimum wage for city employees is $10.20, which matches the state standard. State law prevents cities from setting their own minimum wage, which is why Hancock said his proposal only applies to city workers and others who work with the city.

The city has only taken a brief look so far at the implications of a $15 minimum wage. Hancock said it isn’t clear whether the boost would include seasonal workers, for example. But Hancock, who is up for election next spring, said the estimated cost in an initial analysis came out to be lower than he initially imagined.

“This could be something that could find its way below $5 million on an annual basis to bring folks up,” he said.

The next step will be to do a “succinct, thorough” analysis, Hancock said, and invite stakeholders to offer their input.

One concern Hancock said he will address will be the effect a wage increase would have for the greater Denver area economy. Will small business owners be able to retain employees if they can jump to a city job for more money?

"We understand that we have an impact in the marketplace,” he said. “And part of our outreach to stakeholders includes that."

One such stakeholder group is the Colorado Restaurant Association. That organization’s communications director, Carolyn Livingston, said it hopes to “contribute to a solution that works for all interested parties.”

“We hope we can help to mitigate any unintended consequences,” she said.

Findings will be presented to the mayor in early 2019.

Meanwhile, employees at the Denver International Airport are pushing for a ballot measure that would set the minimum wage there at $15 an hour by 2021.