Minimum wage ballot proposal aims to boost the pay of thousands of Denver International Airport workers to $15 an hour

Thousands of service workers at Denver International Airport could see their pay rise under a union-backed ballot proposal that aims to set a special minimum wage for DIA.

If city voters approve the proposed initiative in the May 2019 municipal election, it would set a minimum wage of $13 an hour, ratcheting up to $15 by mid-2021. The pay rate then would be pegged to inflation annually.

The Denver Airport Minimum Wage Initiative, spearheaded by the Unite Here union, would apply to most nongovernment workers at DIA. It would trump Colorado’s rising statewide minimum wage, which is now $10.20 an hour and is set to top out at $12 in 2020.

But first, the union has to qualify the measure for the ballot.

“In city after city, airport workers have stood up for and won higher wages,” said Kevin Abels, the Denver chapter president of Unite Here’s Local 23. “Denver is going to be next. Our ballot measure is an opportunity to lift up thousands of families in our community.”

Already, some airport employers are wary of the proposal. Leaders of the DIA Concessionaires Association argued in an interview Thursday that some airport-based businesses operate on slim margins and can’t necessarily afford such a boost in worker pay.

Many employers pay hourly rates above the state minimum wage, even for fast-food workers, in order to be competitive in a tight labor market, a contention confirmed by a scan of airport job listings that showed many entry-level jobs in the $11 to $15 range.

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