Aurora rejects the proposal to increase the minimum wage from $ 12 to $ 17 an hour by 2025

Aurora City Council late Monday night rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Colorado’s third largest city. For the second time in two months, such an effort has been rejected by the city’s elected leaders.

The vote, which took place just a few ticks before midnight, came out 6-5, with Mayor Mike Coffman breaking the tie.

The public comment on Monday was full of passionate statements for and against the proposal, which stretched over several hours during repeated telephone challenges during the remote meeting.

Diego Lopez Fleming, a resident of Aurora, told the city council that workers simply can’t get by on Colorado’s minimum wage of $ 12 an hour in a city where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is nearly $ 1,500 a month.

“What’s the point of having so many parks in Aurora if working families can’t enjoy them?” he said. “Respect for the working class begins with the increase in the minimum wage.”

This claim was countered by numerous objections from business owners in the city, one of whom asked why it was Aurora’s employers’ responsibility to cover rising rent. Many feared they would have to close if the city forced them to pay their workers more.

Other critics wondered why city guides were pushing for minimum wages to be increased amid a global pandemic that has closed businesses and severely curtailed capacity in restaurants, shops and gyms.

A third wave of COVID-19 cases in Colorado now threatens to further harm businesses.

Wage increase supporters say now is the right time to pay more to low-wage frontline workers – the very people who regularly interact with the public despite the dangers coronavirus poses to their work.

“Basic workers are risking exposure to COVID – and many have contracted COVID – so everyone else can still live with a sense of normalcy,” said Aurora Councilor Alison Coombs, the measure’s main sponsor. “This essential workforce deserves substantial pay especially during this time.”

Coombs said the move will benefit 53,000 Aurora workers by 2025, provide a living wage and help “address the fact that over 50% of our city’s residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing”.

“A wage increase that brings us closer to inflation and labor productivity is long overdue,” she said. “Before the pandemic, workers couldn’t keep up with the cost of living. The pandemic has made it clear how many of our workers are living on the fringes economically. “

The ordinance would have gradually raised Aurora’s minimum wage over the next few years, from $ 12 an hour today to $ 12.60 an hour next year. By 2023, the minimum wage in the city would have reached $ 14.55 an hour, while two years later it would reach $ 17 an hour.

That would be more than $ 3 an hour more than the state’s hourly minimum ($ 13.91) in 2025. In 2016, voters in Colorado voted to gradually raise the minimum wage to reach current levels of $ 12 an hour. Colorado’s minimum wage in 2015 was $ 8.23 ​​an hour.

A state law passed in 2019 allows cities and counties to set their own minimum wages from this year on.

Councilor Dave Gruber said companies in Aurora that have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic in the past seven months will no longer be able to deal with tax pain with a strengthened minimum wage.

“Based on the emails and calls we received from restaurants, small, fixed-income businesses where corporate headquarters dictates pricing, Medicare / Medicaid geriatric care facilities, and warehouse facilities, we have been advised that this decision will result in further closings.” , Gruber told the Denver Post this week.

The practical effect of raising the minimum wage in Aurora is that employers would be pressured to raise wages across the “entire low-wage scale,” as other employees also request an increase in their wages.

“The impact on unskilled workers will be fewer full-time jobs, fewer hours in available positions and fewer opportunities to find work in the community,” Gruber said.

Last week, Aurora Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Hougen issued a “call to action” to the business community, saying, “This is not the time to introduce minimum wage increases when companies are struggling to keep their doors open – let alone survive worst economic conditions in our recent history. “

The rejection on Monday came after a more aggressive attempt to raise the minimum wage earlier this year, with a proposal in September that the hourly compensation floor should rise to $ 20 by 2027.

Neighboring Denver raised its minimum wage late last year and raised it to nearly $ 15 an hour the next year. By 2025, the Denver minimum wage is expected to reach $ 17.34, slightly more than the Aurora proposed rate.

Coombs said it was important for Aurora to track – if not exceed – the state’s largest city award with Denver.

“If employees can cross the street and make more money, they will. To keep the workers in Aurora instead of sending them to Denver on higher wages, we need to show that we can keep up with the wage increases, ”she said. “Ultimately, we need a comparable wage metrowide so that cities and companies don’t compete against each other.”

But Gruber said that while “the economies of Denver and Aurora are related,” they are “very different.”

“Average Aurora income is way below Denver’s. We have few high-end restaurants, stores, and shops, ”he said. “This affects the number of financial transactions that small businesses and restaurants can bill their customers and pay their employees in return. If Aurora raises our wages, our businesses can flee to surrounding business-friendly cities. “

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