The Denver International Airport workers who prepare your in-flight dinners and push your loved ones’ wheelchairs through the terminal don’t, in many cases, earn livable wages.
A new ballot initiative, launched at a rally Thursday morning in front of the Denver City and County Building, aims to establish a DIA-specific minimum wage of $15 for the more than 6,000 airport workers making less than that.
To qualify their proposal for Denver’s municipal election in May 2019, they’ll need to secure 4,726 signatures, and that effort began today.
“After 19 years of working at DIA airport, neither my wife or I make $15 an hour,” said Amelton Archelus, a Haitian immigrant who works in food services for United Airlines. “After 19 years, I still struggle to pay my bills, to pay my rent on time. I have to tell my kids they can’t go to a movie (so) I can buy the groceries.
“I’ve given much of my life to this airport,” he added. “My wife and I and all the airport workers who make DIA run deserve more.”
Most DIA workers — there are an estimated 30,000 of them, in total — do make at least $15 an hour, according to research by the New York-based labor union Unite Here, the organizer of this effort.
About 1,500 of those workers are employees of the city, as opposed to employees of the federal government, airlines, concessionaires or others doing business at DIA. Airport spokeswoman Emily Williams said she believes all 1,500 city workers already make at least $15 an hour.
Thursday’s rally included about 40 people wearing Unite Here shirts and waving signs, though at least about half of those people were with Unite Here, and not actual DIA workers, organizers confirmed.
Asked if some workers may be hesitant to join the campaign for fear of retribution, Archelus said he did not think so. His colleagues generally feel “more strongly than I do,” he said, about the need for higher pay, and their employers know that.
If Denver voters approved the ballot initiative in May, DIA worker wages will be increased in phases, reaching the $15 level in 2021.
A spokeswoman for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has not yet responded to a request for comment on the initiative Thursday.
“For me, $15 isn’t just money,” Teresita Felix, who also works in food services for United, said at the rally. “It’s an acknowledgement of my dignity and contribution to the Denver airport.”
DIA is the city’s biggest economic driver, and Denver plans to invest more than $3 billion in airport upgrades in coming years. Felix said she has about 40 relatives who also work at DIA, and that they feel left behind amid the growth.
“My daughter and I have to share a house with 20 other people, including seven other children, because I cannot afford to live in Denver on my own,” she said. “Between rent and bills, there’s just not enough money to go around.”
The minimum wage in Colorado stands now at $10.20 per hour, though it will be bumped to $12 by 2020 thanks to a voter-approved 2016 ballot measure.
Many DIA employees, including some who, like Archelus, have worked there for more than a decade, are earning the state minimum wage now.
Those workers often must also cover their own transportation to the airport, Unite Here said.
Should Denver voters support this effort in May, DIA would become the country’s 16th airport with an airport-specific minimum wage.