The same day Vice President Joe Biden stood by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in announcing plans for the first statewide $15-an-hour minimum wage, Denver workers went to City Hall to ask for the same.
If New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles can do it, so can we, workers said at a Thursday march.
Led in part by the Service Employees International Union, the Fight-for-$15 campaign began in 2012 and has been gaining steam nationwide ever since.
Low-wage workers from the food service, property maintenance and home healthcare industries gathered outside a McDonald’s on Colfax to march to Civic Center Park.
“We work. We sweat. Put $15 on our check!” was one chant.
“Hold the burgers. Hold the fries. Make our wages super-sized!” was another.
The throng of protesters chanted in English and Spanish. Some on the sidewalk ignored them, others briefly joined in or cheered in support. Several passing cars gave encouraging honks.
Deb Sandoval, who works at the McDonald’s on Tower Road and Hampden Avenue in Aurora, thought she wasn’t going to make it to the action. She had been ill for nearly a week with no sick days, but finally felt well enough and was able to get some time off Thursday afternoon.
Though she struggled to be there, Sandoval felt it was important for her long-term well-being. She said her income dictates her entire life. “I’ve been engaged for years, but you can’t even think about having a wedding when you don’t even know where your next meal is coming from.”
Rachelle Bainter has worked at McDonald’s on-and-off for 25 years and has only seen her wage increase $2-an-hour in that time. Food stamps help, but she doesn’t see why an adult who works full time should have to rely on public assistance.
“If I made $15-an-hour, I could do everything myself,” she said. “I want to do it myself.”
When the marchers got to City Hall, a small group of workers, all women, went to Councilman Paul Lopez’s office. He and every other councilmember were touring Denver International Airport at the time. His aide Jesus Orrantia met with the group, listened to their stories and promised to arrange a meeting with the councilman.
Melissa Benjamin is a Certified Nurse’s Assistant whose four-year-old daughter wandered around the councilman’s office as she spoke about the difficulties of the home healthcare profession. She spends her days keeping people safe and healthy, but doesn’t make a wage she can take care of herself and her child on without assistance.
Benjamin said the income disparity within her company angers her.
“At the end of the day, the director drives off in his BMW, and we all get on a bus. There’s enough money to pay us fairly.”
Later, councilman Paul Lopez spoke about the Fight for $15 over the phone with The Colorado Independent. As a former labor organizer himself, he’s intimately familiar with this struggle.
“Progressive or not, this just makes sense,” he said. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t just help the lowest paid workers, he said. “It’s about creating a tide that raises all ships.”
That being said, Lopez acknowledged there isn’t a whole lot he can do about it, given an amendment that locks minimum wage into the state constitution.
“I’m not trying to pass the buck,” he said. “If I had the opportunity, I would. I’m just being realistic.”
Lopez said he intends to lobby state lawmakers to give municipal governments the authority to raise the minimum wage. He’s cautiously optimistic that he can find support for the issue on the new council.
“As prosperous as we are as a city, it’s not for everyone,” Lopez said. “The one thing we can’t afford is inaction.”
Photos by Nat Stein