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Boulder rejects county’s call to join 2024 minimum wage hike

BOULDER — In a move that positions Boulder alongside the business community and out of step with Boulder County and labor activists, a divided Boulder City Council opted last week to wait until 2025 to move forward with plans to increase the city’s minimum wage. 

Boulder County, with support from unions and workers groups, decided this month to accelerate the wage hike to Jan. 1, 2024, a choice that drew criticism from the Northwest Chamber Alliance, a group of executives, managers and staff with the Boulder Chamber, Boulder County Latino Chamber of Commerce, Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Longmont Chamber of Commerce, Louisville Chamber of Commerce and Superior Chamber of Commerce.

In a letter to local officials, the alliance called Boulder County’s plan, which would increase the minimum wage only in unincorporated portions of the county, “insensitive and reckless.”

Some members of the Boulder City Council, which voted 5-4 against joining the county in expediting the wage increase, appeared to agree with the business community. 

“It’s too late, folks,” Councilman Bob Yates said, adding that a Jan. 1, 2024, target could have been “achievable” if the city had started the process much earlier in the year.

Boulder officials expect to join with other Boulder County municipalities including Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville and Erie in aiming for Jan. 1, 2025, for a minimum wage increase.

The Boulder County Board of Commissioners plan to boost the minimum wage by 15% to $15.70, effective Jan. 1, 2024. 

“Coming out of a global pandemic, we saw folks in so much hurt. I believe that residents are still hurting,” Boulder County Commissioner Marta Loachamin told BizWest when the county’s plan was revealed in early August, and a minimum-wage increase is one way to help ease some of the economic pain.

“We heard all of this stuff during the pandemic about essential workers and how critical these people are to our society and our community. We saw signs and banners, and people risked their lives to work at the grocery store or to be janitors or to do childcare services,” county Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann said this month. “Their reward is that we still haven’t increased their wages.”

Some members of the Boulder City Council echoed this sentiment. “Life has gotten really hard. A higher wage will help feed our families  and keep their homes warm,” Councilwoman Nicole Speer said. “A living wage is a matter of survival.”

In 2019, state lawmakers passed HB19-1210, legislation that allows local cities and counties to increase their minimum wages beyond the state mandate, which for 2023 is $13.65. Increases can be implemented only on Jan. 1 of any given year and are capped at 15% each year. 

Denver was Colorado’s first city to take advantage of the new law. That city’s local minimum wage will jump $1 per hour to $18.29 from $17.29 beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

A divided Fort Collins City Council rejected a local minimum wage hike in May. City staff had presented options that would have boosted the lowest hourly wage for all workers in Fort Collins from the statewide minimum of $13.65 to either $16.65 or $17.29 by Jan. 1, 2026. However, after forceful but civil debate among workers, business owners and council members, the issue failed on a 4-3 vote.

Worker-advocacy group Boulder Area Labor Council’s goal is to boost the minimum wage throughout Boulder County, including in cities and towns, to $25 by 2028.

“Boulder County can do better to support under-paid workers,” Morgan Royal with the Boulder County Self-sufficiency Wage Coalition, a labor council-affiliated group, told BizWest in early August. “We hope that Boulder County and municipalities across the county can pass a minimum wage that is inline with the needs of workers.”

Boulder County officials will hold a public hearing on the issue on Nov. 2. In advance of the hearing, Boulder County officials are planning a town hall on Oct. 12 in Niwot.

Business leaders have said they want municipal officials to take their time and study the impacts of raising the minimum wage prior to taking action. However, business groups have not staked out a position on whether they would eventually support an increase.

Northwest Chamber Alliance’s statement provides some insight into which side of the wage-hike debate they may ultimately fall.

“To blithely add significant additional cost to (business owners’) bottom-line expenses and inject imbalanced cross-jurisdictional competition, completely disregards the findings from studies in other communities of the further negative business and employee impacts from ill-considered minimum wage increases,” the alliance said.

Source: BizWest