Denver janitors sign ‘historic’ $15 minimum wage agreement

Denver janitors will soon be guaranteed to make at least $15 an hour.

In what activists are calling a “historic victory,” janitors from the Denver metro area have agreed a new union contract that will increase starting wages over the next four years, culminating in a $15-per-hour minimum by 2020. The win comes after three years of “Fight for $15” actions nationwide.

Hundreds of workers and their supporters celebrated the new contract Thursday with a march and rally downtown. When the event was scheduled earlier in the week, organizers weren’t sure whether they were planning a celebration or a strike: The contract negotiations didn’t finish until late Wednesday night.

Related: Denver janitors march for dignity and a living wage

The master contract, negotiated by a team of janitors from the local Service Employees International Union chapter, covers more than 2,400 janitors with 27 cleaning companies across the city. Combined, these companies clean 180 buildings in the Denver area. The new contract will go into effect on July 2, though it will still technically be a tentative agreement until union janitor members vote to ratify it on July 9.

“This victory means a lot to me and my family,” said Cristina Rodriguez, a Denver janitor, in a statement. “Right now my wages are so low I can’t even afford to take my children to the doctor when they are sick. But $15 allows me to raise my family with dignity,” she said.

In addition to the path to a $15 wage, the new contract expands child healthcare coverage to include employees in Jefferson, Douglas and Boulder counties. It also guarantees that union janitors will not face any increased healthcare costs.

Denver janitors last negotiated their contract in 2012, when the city’s real estate market was still in a post-recession slump. Janitors at that time accepted only wage modest increases, according to SEIU.

But now, with Denver’s cost of living steadily increasing — not to mention vacancy rates at a 15-year low — workers say they need more.

Patricia Robles, a janitor and the vice president of the local union chapter, says the wage increase will have effects far beyong the employees it covers.

“Winning a path to $15 will help the local economy for years to come,” she said. “It shows other workers that when you unite together, you can win.”

Photo credit: Allen Tian