DENVER (CBS4) – Denver is officially the first Colorado city to set its own minimum wage. On Wednesday, Mayor Michael Hancock signed the measure, meaning starting Jan. 1, 2020, all private-sector employees will see a bump in their paychecks. The new law was backed by Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilwoman Robin Kniech and will incrementally increase the minimum wage to almost $16/hour by 2022.
“This increase to Denver’s minimum wage will provide a little bit of relief for those who are struggling the most – families who must choose between putting food on the table and paying rent or buying medicine,” Hancock said.
The new law will affect 90,000 people living and working in Denver and for the first time, included an amendment by Councilman Chris Hinds.
The amendment makes clear that, unlike the current state law, Denver’s law will require everyone, regardless of ability, to receive at least the minimum wage. Minors enrolled in specific employment programs are the only exception.
As the state law stands, according to a provision in Colorado’s Fair Labor Standards Act (Section 14(c)), employers are permitted to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage if their disability impairs their earning or productive capacity. It can be as low as 10¢ per hour up to a few dollars per hour.
The amendment to Denver’s new law may have seemed small to some but for people like Curtis Chong, it’s groundbreaking.
“What they’re really doing is treating people with disabilities like normal human beings. That’s a big deal,” said Chong.
Chong is a technical consultant for the National Federation of the Blind, Colorado.
He has been blind since birth and as a result, has spent his entire life helping others see that he isn’t really disabled.
“People with disabilities can produce as much and as well as anybody else. Overlook the disability and focus on the person,” he said.
Chong is a guy who likes computers, loves playing piano and absolutely hates veggies.
This is not how his first employer saw him. His first employer gave him menial work, stuffing envelopes. He worked in a sheltered workshop, a space designed to give the disabled work for a below-average paycheck.
“I got a paycheck for $5 to work 16 hours. They told me my productivity was acceptable but the piece rate was low. I was mad! I said, how can the law let ’em do this? Everyone know the minimum wage is 1.60!”
This was the moment that changed his life. He vowed never to take a sub-minimum wage job again and he stuck to it.
It’s the reason he decided to speak in front of Denver City Council Monday night, prior to the vote.
“We applaud the City of Denver for supporting the concept established by the state which says the minimum wage applies to everyone. We interpret that to mean everyone, including the blind and other people with disabilities. If that is in fact what this bill is intended to do we support it,” he said from the podium.
The passage of the new city law, Choy says, makes him proud to live here.
“If Denver can do it, if Seattle can do, it if other places can do it, why can’t the nation as a whole?”
Under the ordinance, Denver’s minimum wage will go up to:
- $12.85 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020;
- $14.77 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021;
- $15.87 an hour on Jan. 1, 2022; and
- Annual adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index each year thereafter.
- The city’s auditor’s office says they will help employers and employees navigate the changes.
“The new minimum wage is going to impact thousands of people’s lives,” Auditor O’Brien said. “My team and I are working to make the process as accessible and user-friendly as possible to both employees and employers.”
They will help those who have complaints about contractor minimum wages.
Anyone will be able to submit a minimum wage complaint under the new citywide law starting Jan. 1. Complaints can be anonymous. At the start of the year, complaints can be sent to Denver Labor via email at email@example.com. They can also call our analysts at 720-913-5039.