Freshman U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) is receiving praise from unions for his vote Friday to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
It wasn’t clear that the Democrat would vote for a hike to the federal wage, because unlike the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation, he hadn’t cosponsored the Raise the Wage Act, a standalone bill that would raise the standard federal minimum wage, as well as the minimum wage for workers under 20 years of age, workers with disabilities, and tipped workers.
He’d also told the Wall Street Journal last month that he was worried about the repercussions a $15 minimum wage could have on small businesses.
However, last week his office told the Colorado Times Recorder that he does support a federal wage increase–and he walked the walk, voting in favor last Friday of an amendment to the COVID stimulus bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
The amendment failed to pass 42-58 in the longest known Senate vote, coming in at 11 hours and 50 minutes.
The minimum-wage amendment was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with Democrats.
The amendment was also called the Raise the Wage Act, and was identical to the standalone bill by the same name.
Progressives were hoping to pass the minimum wage hike as part of the American Rescue Plan Act because it might have stood a better chance of passing than a separate bill. But some moderate Democrats’ decisions to vote against it showed that Democrats presently have little hope of getting a majority on board with this particular legislation, let alone the majority of 60 that they need to pass it.
Colorado essential workers rallied outside Hickenlooper’s Denver office last week demanding he vote in favor of the wage increase.
Following the senator’s vote, those workers in partnership with the SEIU Local 105–a union representing essential workers–thanked Hickenlooper in a press release.
Hickenlooper ran a presidential campaign last year on his own idea of what a national wage increase should look like.
His idea was that the wage should be increased proportionally to the living expenses of the area, so “the most expensive quarter of the country would get a $15 minimum wage by 2021, and the least expensive would see that hike in 2024,” according to CPR–a much more expedited timeline than Sanders’ proposal.
A Hickenlooper spokesperson told the Colorado Times Recorder that Hickenlooper will continue to support and fight for a $15 minimum.
“Senator Hickenlooper supports raising the minimum wage to $15 and voted to allow this important issue to advance in the Senate,” the spokesperson said. “It’s unacceptable that the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in over a decade, and he is eager to work with his colleagues to change this unjust reality.”
It’s unclear whether Hickenlooper plans to introduce any legislation in the future similar to that in his presidential campaign, and if he still holds any reservations regarding the impact on small businesses.
Representatives of local Colorado unions are pleased with Hickenlooper’s support of better labor laws, and encouraged him to continue supporting essential workers during the pandemic.
Lauren Martens, executive director of SEIU Colorado State Council, expects to see more of Hickenlooper’s efforts in the future.
“We appreciate Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper listening to workers and voting to give over 550,000 Coloradans a raise to $15 an hour,” Martens told the Colorado Times Recorder. “Working people need our Senators to keep fighting for $15 until it passes, and not let archaic Senate processes get in the way.”
Hilary Glasgow, executive director of Colorado WINS, a union that represents state employees, says Colorado needs “bold, transformative solutions” in addition to the American Rescue Plan Act.
“We need bold, transformative solutions because Congress has more work to do for essential workers,” Glasgow told the Colorado Times Recorder. “