Denver International Airport is slated for $3 billion in upgrades in coming years, but many employees feel left behind.
About 6,000 airport workers make less than $15 an hour, the Colorado Independent reports. A ballot initiative spearheaded by New York-based UNITE HERE aims to establish a Denver airport-specific minimum wage. Organizers launched the effort last week — if they gather the necessary 4,726 signatures, the proposal will be put before voters in Denver’s 2019 municipal election.
“After 19 years of working at DIA airport, neither my wife or I make $15 an hour,” Amelton Archelus, a Haitian immigrant who works in food services for United Airlines, said on Thursday, according to the Independent. “After 19 years, I still struggle to pay my bills, to pay my rent on time.”
Complicating matters, workers aren’t all employed by one entity — some are employees of the city, some work for the federal government and some are employed by specific airlines. Many of them do already make $15 an hour, according to research from Unite Here. Airport spokeswoman Emily Williams told the Independent that she believes all 1,500 city employees make at least $15 an hour.
Should Denver voters pass the initiative next year, DIA will become the country’s 16th airport with an airport-specific minimum wage, according to the paper.
Living wage campaigns spread from Seattle to city halls nationwide in 2015, and were a hot topic on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, as Next City has reported. Workers are now organizing around fair workweek legislation — in 2016, Seattle passed a secure scheduling policy that requires advance notice of schedules and compensation for canceled shifts. San Francisco and New York have also begun advancing legislation that requires advance notice for schedules and extra pay for on-call shifts or last-minute cancellations.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.