By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – The city of Denver wants to raise the minimum wage, but are first asking people in the community how they feel about it. Tuesday evening, the second of six town halls was held where people could weigh in on the idea.

Mayor Michael Hancock is proposing to increase the minimum wage to $13.80 an hour next year then up to $15.87 in 2021.

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There’s at least one company, however, that isn’t waiting for new legislation to pay their employees more.

Craig Hospital recently announced it will increase its minimum wage to $15.34/hour starting next week.

“We want to be sure we take care of [our employees] so they can take care of our patients,” Stacy Abel, Vice President of People & Culture for Craig Hospital, said. “We wanted to be sure we’re investing in our people.”

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Abel said the hospital’s executive team unanimously decided to increase the minimum wage, impacting 180 employees across 40 different positions.

“We understand that the cost of living in Denver is just skyrocketing,” she explained. “We wanted to make sure that our staff were taken care of and were earning at least a livable wage.”

The boost in pay came as a bit of a surprise to Kevin Jackson, a utility worker at the hospital.

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“It feels good because they’re looking out for us,” Jackson told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “They want to keep us happy, and I’ve been here for years.”

Jackson has worked in the hospital’s kitchen for more than 19 years. Much like he’s seen the hospital grow over that time, he’s seen his hometown change rapidly, too.

“It’s kind of ridiculous what we’re paying for rent and the cost of living with the city growing,” he said, adding a greater paycheck will help him immensely. “It’s going to help me maintain my place I’m living at, whereas in the past it was hard to do that.”

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Affording rent is a concern Jackson knows many people in Denver have, so it’s his hope the minimum wage will rise for everyone across the city.

“I was born and raised here and I remember when stuff was cheap and reasonable,” Jackson explained. “Now it’s gone up, so I’m in favor because of that.”

Not everyone is on board with the idea of increasing minimum wage, however, including the Colorado Restaurant Association. The association’s CEO, Sonia Riggs, shared this statement:

“We are opposed to Denver’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15.87 for two main reasons. First, the speed with which this hike would be implemented is extreme. $4.77 in a 15 month timeline is significant – and $2.70 by January 2020 is the fastest jump we’ve seen in the country. This would be hard for any small business to swallow, but in the case of restaurants specifically, 95 to 97 cents of every dollar spent in a restaurant goes directly to the people, the place, and the food. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for additional costs.  Restaurants will have to respond by raising prices, cutting staff, or changing their model – all dramatic changes when undertaken in such a short period of time.

Second, this hike will further increase the earnings disparity between servers and kitchen staff. That’s because most kitchen staff are already making more than the minimum wage, so they’ll get no raise. Servers tend to be paid the state tipped minimum wage of $8.08 currently.  However, we see many servers taking home between $20 and $40 an hour after tips. This proposal requires full service restaurants to give their highest earners a 50% increase in their hourly wage.  Furthermore, since diners tip on a percentage of their check, they’ll see tips increase as well when restaurants inevitably raise prices…making the disparity issue even worse. This hamstrings restaurateurs in their ability to divert more resources to the kitchen staff, where there’s already a labor shortage! So in the case of the restaurant industry, this proposal actually hurts the people it’s trying to help.”

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Those interested in sharing their opinion on Denver’s minimum wage are invited to attend the community town halls. The final four meetings are scheduled for:

  • 10 @ 6pm – George Washington High School, 655 S. Monaco Pkwy
  • 16 @ 6pm – Carla Madison Rec. Center, 2401 E. Colfax Ave.
  • 22 @ 6pm – Hiawatha Davis Jr. Rec. Center, 3334 Holly St
  • 29 @ 6pm – Denver Police Department District 1 Station, 1311 W. 46th Ave.

Kelly Werthmann

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