Ballot Measure Would Bump Minimum Wage In Colorado
By Dave Felice
A small business owner in Denver says paying a living wage is a “moral imperative,” while another in Lakewood says paying more than minimum wage results in a more contented, productive, and stable workforce in addition to improving the success of the company.
Kevin Daley of Vine Street Pub in Uptown and Sarah Marcogliese are supporting “12 by 20-20” ballot initiative campaign to ask Colorado voters to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020.
“Increasing the minimum wage is the fair and smart thing to do,” says Daley. “Workers need to be able to buy food and pay rent. Higher wages actually return money to the local economy.”
While Daley’s restaurant is a fairly typical business ownership story, Marcogliese’s is dramatic.
When she left Park Hill and formed her Native Earth Landscape business 14 years ago, Marcogliese determined to have a successful company while still paying employees more than Colorado’s hourly minimum wage, which is now $8.31. She continues to do that while the company has grown and increased profitability.
“A lot of businesses still pay beginning employees in the $8 to $10 range. I pay $15 per hour to start,” she says. “Workers want to feel good about themselves and their jobs. Happiness isn’t based on huge profits, but we all still make a good living.”
About a year ago, when her workers complained of being unable to find affordable housing in Denver’s over-heated market, Marcogliese gave everyone an immediate $2 per hour raise. Some of her employees, she says, make as much as $25 per hour, rivaling the pay of some industrial trades workers.
“In many cases, I actually save money in training costs because so many of my workers stay with me,” says Marcogliese. “My workers average three-to-five years of service. I had no training costs this year because everyone came back. My company has grown every year.”
According to Marcogliese, other big cities around the country have demonstrated that a higher minimum wage can be successful. She says she doesn’t believe product price increases are necessary to cover higher wages.
“We’re not talking about teenagers and part time jobs,” she says. “Eighty-six percent of minimum wage workers in the Denver area are over 20 years old.”
“A higher minimum wage in Colorado is a win-win,” says Richard Eidlin, a Denver-based officer of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC). “Workers benefit from having more disposable income. Businesses benefit from having more customers able to purchase their goods and services.
“As other states have shown, a higher minimum wage stimulates spending and helps to reduce public assistance expenditures. All in all, Colorado’s business community will gain from the proposed ballot initiative.”
ASBC represents several hundred thousand small and medium businesses nationwide. Eidlin is co-founder and vice president of policy and campaigns for the council.
A coalition of social justice, worker organizations, and local businesses is conducting the petition drive. Executive Director of Rights for All People Lizeth Chacon says the campaign needs 98,000-plus petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, but the coalition is actually hoping to get as many as 160,000 signatures. Chacon says 30,000 people signed in just the first week of the campaign.
Representing the faith community on the coalition, Rabbi Bernie Gerson of Denver’s Rodef Shalom congregation says paying good wages is an important part of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
“Too many Colorado workers do not make a fair wage for the jobs they perform, says Rep. Angela Williams, chair of the state Business and Labor Affairs Committee. “Families cannot make ends meet on the current minimum wage (and) it’s time for Colorado to work towards a solution to raise the minimum wage by 2020. This will give small businesses the time to adjust for increasing worker’s wages to make employee retention and performance improve the workplace.”
Williams, a Democrat, is currently running for State Senate District 33, which includes Park Hill. She faces Jon Biggerstaff in the June 28 primary.
According to Sam Gilchrist, head of the state AFL-CIO, minimum wage just hasn’t kept pace with the dramatic and continuing increases in the cost of living in Colorado. “Our campaign is about helping parents raise children, seniors who can’t afford to retire, and students who can’t pay for an education. Thousands of hard-working Coloradans are struggling to make ends meet.”
In some cases, those ends don’t meet very well. Marilyn Sorenson of Denver is a home health care worker who worries every month about making enough to pay expenses.
“I appreciate the opportunity to take care of those who need extra help, but people who work hard shouldn’t have to live in poverty and depend on public assistance.” Sorenson points out that her actual pay is diminished because she has to pay her own transportation costs of getting from one patient to another.
According to Maggie Gomez of 9to5 Colorado, a full-time wage earner in Colorado currently earns about $17,000 per year. One in four workers earn less than $12 an hour. The organization 9to5 primarily represents working women in the state.
Some larger businesses complain that raising minimum wage would force employers to drastically lower labor costs. For example, The Wendy’s Corporation is reportedly planning to use automated kiosks to replace thousands of cashiers at its fast food restaurants across the country.
For more campaign information, see: https://www.facebook.com/12forCO/ or coloradofamiliesforafairwage.org/
Dave Felice is an At-Large Board Member of Greater Park Hill Community Inc. He is a member of National Writers Union, Local 1981, and recipient of awards in 2015 and 2016 from the Society of Professional Journalists for news column writing. He can be contacted at email@example.com.