Voters have decided it’s time to give Colorado’s minimum-wage workers a long-overdue raise.
Amendment 70, a measure that would increase Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, was passing by a 10-percent margin. Minimum wage in the state is now $8.31 an hour.
With 25 of 64 counties reporting, the vote-count as of this posting was 55 percent yes to 45 percent no.
In a crowded, jubilant second-floor conference room at the Westin Downtown, a group of minimum wage earners, business owners and advocates celebrated.
“Amendment is going to help our local economy,” said Edwin Zoe, proprietor of restaurant Zoe Ma Ma. “When low income workers do well, we all do well.”
The amendment alters the state constitution to increase the minimum wage by yearly 90-cent increments until it reaches $12 in 2020. In 2020, it will be fixed at $12, except for yearly adjustments to account for inflation.
Who pushed it over the finish line?
Supporters of the increase coalesced in mid-2016 into a group called Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of unions, economic justice advocates and progressive policy analysts. Many of them had been part of an informal consortium of anti-poverty groups called The Everyone Economy that came together to strategize about raising the minimum wage back in February 2014. Partnering with Democratic legislators, they advocated for a pair of bills in the 2015 legislative session to help low-wage workers. One would have allowed municipalities to set their own minimums, and the other would have created a ballot measure to reach a $12.50 per hour minimum by 2020. Republicans killed both bills in the Senate.
Democrats floated another bill in 2016 to allow cities to set their own minimum wages, which met the same fate as its predecessors. After that, Everyone Economy members decided they had no recourse but to pursue a ballot measure themselves and formed Colorado Families for a Fair Wage.
What does it mean that it passed?
The work is just beginning for Colorado labor unions and low-wage worker advocates. Most CFFW members acknowledge that $12 per hour is not in fact a living wage for workers with families in some parts of Colorado. Most estimates put a living wage for a single parent of two children in Denver at around $30 per hour. But advocates also believe that the current $8.31 per hour is inexcusable, and any more than $12 was not politically viable this time around.
But for some, the increase means a change in their lives. April Medina currently makes $11 per hour in assisted living. She works 60-70 hours per week, leaving very little time to spend with her four children. She brought her 9-year-old daughter, Jasmine, to the Westin Downtown to celebrate Amendment 70’s passage.
Medina said she was thrilled by the news.
“I’m excited to go to some basketball games,” Medina said.
How much firepower was against it?
Keep Colorado Working had a slower start raising funds, but raised $1.7 million in the last reporting period. It has spent just under $1.4 million as of the most recent campaign finance filings, primarily on television advertising and consultants. About half of its funds ($650,000) come from the Alexandria, Virginia-based Workforce Fairness Institute. It has also gotten $525,000 from Colorado Citizens Protecting Our Constitution, a committee that has donated hefty sums to pro-fracking campaigns and to a 2013 effort to recall legislators who had passed gun-control legislation.
CCFW outraised its rivals almost 3 to 1, raising about $5.3 million in donations, much of it from out-of-state groups like its largest donor, the Center for Popular Democracy, which has kicked in over $1 million. Its second-largest donor is the Palo Alto-based Fairness Project, which has contributed over $960,000 to CFFW and is also supporting minimum wage ballot measures in Maine, Arizona and Washington, D.C.
Keep Colorado Working wants to make sure you know that some of CFFW’s donors are not from Colorado. Virtually all of its communications use the terms “wealthy out of state special interests” liberally.
According to the most recent campaign finance filings, CFFW has spent $4.6 million on television and digital advertising, outreach efforts like canvassing and hosting events, mailers, polling and research.
Photo by Eliza Carter