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A Livable Wage For Denver


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Denver set a higher minimum wage for city employees and contractors.

Building on previous actions to ensure Denver city employees and many city service contract employees are paid a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2021, Mayor Hancock and Councilwoman Kniech intend to introduce legislation this fall to set a citywide minimum wage for all workers employed in Denver beginning Jan. 1, 2020. 

This year, Denver set a higher minimum wage for city employees and contractors. During this year’s legislative session, through HB19-1210, the Colorado General Assembly authorized local governments to set a citywide minimum wage greater than the state constitutional wage, currently $11.10 an hour and scheduled to go to $12 on Jan. 1.

Utilizing this new authority, Mayor Hancock and Councilwoman Kniech’s proposal would elevate Denver’s minimum wage to $13.80 on Jan. 1, $15.87 on Jan. 1, 2021, and then rise according to the Consumer Price Index each year after that.

The city will host several community meetings throughout October to gather input and feedback from Denver residents on the proposal. City Council is expected to consider the proposal in November.

Denver Wage Growth vs. Housing Growth

Denver Wage Growth vs Housing growth diagram 

Description of graph, above. Note that trend lines are shown from 2005 through 2018.

  • Median Income: Trend line stays at around 8-9%
  • Fair Market Rent: Trend line starts around 6%, drops to around $% in 2010, and then jumps and stabilizes at around 13% from 2015 through 2018
  • Home Prices: Trend line starts at around 12% in 2005, drops to around -5% in 2010, skyrockets to around 34% in 2015, and then drops to around 17% from 2015 through 2018

Read the proposal

Community Townhalls

  • Southwest
    Wednesday, October 2 @ 5:30pm
    Justice For All Center
    2525 W. Alameda Ave.
  • Far Northeast
    Tuesday, Oct. 8 @ 6:00pm
    Evie Garrett Dennis Campus (DPS)
    4800 Telluride St.
  • Southeast
    Thursday, Oct. 10 @ 6:00pm
    George Washington High School
    655 S. Monaco Pkwy.
  • Central
    Wednesday, Oct. 16 @ 6:00pm
    Carla Madison Rec. Center
    2401 E. Colfax Ave.
  • Northeast
    Tuesday, Oct. 22 @ 6:00pm
    Hiawatha Davis Jr. Rec. Center
    3334 Holly St.
  • Northwest
    Tuesday, Oct. 29 @ 6:00pm
    DPD District 1 Station
    1311 W. 46th Ave.

Frequently Asked Questions

Research from the Bell Policy Center shows that by 2021, nearly 100,000 adult workers would see a wage increase with a $15.87 minimum wage. Compared to all workers, people of color and women are more likely to hold a minimum or low wage job in Denver. 30.2% of women workers, 50.7% of Hispanic workers and 38.8% of black workers would benefit from the proposed $15.87 wage rate on January 1, 2021.

HB19-1210 sets a maximum possible wage increase each year of 15% or $1.75, whichever is higher, and requires that wage increases coincide with the annual constitutional wage increase on January 1 each year. We are proposing to increase the required minimum wage by the maximum amount allowed by law in 2020 and 2021 and implement the initial wage increase as soon as possible, on January 1, 2020.

The city has contracted with City Center at the University of Colorado Denver to conduct research on the impact of this minimum wage proposal, including effects on the labor market, businesses and consumers.

While we would support more regional action, Denver is in a position to lead on this issue today.  HB19-1210 limits wage increases annually to January 1, so if we do not act before January 1, we will not able to raise the wage until 2021.

We believe increased wages will make Denver businesses more competitive employers.  HB19-1210 empowers other cities and counties to set a jurisdiction-wide minimum wage appropriate for their community and we expect other communities will act in the coming years. We hope to be a resource for our neighboring cities/counties as they consider their own wage proposals.  By 2021, Denver would join 13 other cities/counties nationwide that already have a minimum wage at or above $15 per hour. An additional 12 cities/counties and three states with minimum wage legislation are scheduled to reach $15/hour in coming years.

No. This proposal reflects the maximum wage increase allowed by HB19-1210 – a 15% increase each year.  In 2020, that maximum 15% increase over the state constitutional wage of $12 per hour equals $13.80 per hour.  We reach a wage level above $15 on January 1, 2021.

CPI is the index used for the state constitutional minimum wage and for our city contracts minimum wage ordinance. We previously received feedback from the business community that use of a consistent index was preferable.

No.  State law requires that the citywide minimum wage be paid to all adult workers and emancipated minors and does not allow for exceptions. We must apply the wage to all classes of workers and employers equally.

State law allows for unemancipated minors (generally those under 18 still under parental guardianship) to be paid 15% below the state-mandated minimum wage.  The current citywide minimum wage proposal does not treat any class of worker differently, regardless of age.

The Auditor’s Office will enforce this ordinance through a complaint-based process. Employees who believe they have been paid less than the citywide minimum wage can file a complaint with the Auditor’s Office. The Auditor’s Office also has the power to investigate wage underpayments company-wide after a complaint has been made.

The proposed ordinance authorizes the Auditor’s Office or a third party (including an attorney) to assist with filing a complaint. Forms will be available in English and Spanish. The Auditor’s Office will also accept referrals from the State regarding suspected violations.

The proposed ordinance requires payroll records to be maintained for 3 years. The Auditor’s Office’s is authorized to look back 3 years as part of an investigation after a credible complaint, private lawsuit or state referral.

The Auditor’s office will provide employers with approved language to be posted for workers. The required notice must be provided in English and Spanish. 

A complaint must be filed within one year of a violation.

The proposed ordinance allows for a one-time right to remedy a first violation without penalty in the case of a good faith error.

The proposed ordinance authorizes a private right of action that can happen concurrently or as a standalone from any city enforcement process.  A private lawsuit does not prelude a separate city-initiated enforcement action to address underpayment of wages.

Like other city fines, the penalties assessed for violations will be paid into the City’s General Fund.

Penalties are:

  • First offense - $50 per day, per employee  
  • Second offense - $75 per day, per employee paid below the citywide minimum wage plus a $2,500 fine
  • Four or more offenses - $100 per day, per employee paid below the citywide minimum wage plus a $5,000 fine
  • Failure to furnish the auditor’s office with a complete, certified payroll upon request - $1,000 per violation
  • False reporting - $1,000 per violation
  • Failure to make workers whole for underpayment of wages – up to $5,000 per violation

Employers are also be required to make workers whole for any underpayment of wages

If an employer is unable, despite good faith efforts, to locate and pay a worker all wages owed, the underpayment amount may be deposited in a city trust account administered by the City.  Payments will subsequently be dispersed to workers who submit a verified claim for such amount for an additional two-year period after the last wage underpayment.

Retaliation against workers for filing complaints is expressly prohibited. 

The proposed ordinance sets a minimum rate solely for wages, exclusive of fringe benefits, and does not provide for a benefit offset.