DIA workers want a vote on a $15 minimum wage, but they’ll need a few signatures first

If they’re successful, it’ll appear on the May 2019 ballot.

Denver International Airport employee Amelton Archelus speaks during rally on the City and County Building steps for higher wages at the airport, Aug, 23, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver International Airport employee Amelton Archelus speaks during rally on the City and County Building steps for higher wages at the airport, Aug, 23, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver International Airport service workers on Thursday launched a ballot campaign to increase the minimum wage for workers at the airport to $15 by 2021.

Workers and supporters stood outside the Denver City and County Building steps on Thursday to announce their efforts and begin collecting signatures for their ballot initiative. They will need to collect at least 4,726 valid signatures for the measure to appear before voters in the May 2019 citywide election.

Unite Here Local 23 president Kevin Abels, which represents DIA workers, said their goal is supported by 13 other local labor unions and community organizations. He added that while airline costs are lowering, rent and other bills are increasing for workers living in Denver.

Currently, Abels said more than 6,000 workers at DIA make less than $15 an hour, with about a third making the state minimum wage ($10.20).

“Denver and DIA can and must do better,” Abels said.

Teresita Felix, a United Airlines food production worker at the airport, said she has some 40 relatives who work at DIA. A native of the Micronesia islands, Felix said she believed working for a big company like United would be a “good job.”

“The work we do is hard. I spend eight to 10 hours, sometimes more, in an industrial fridge … on the long days, I don’t have time to read to my daughter or even see her myself,” Felix said.

Felix said her elder family members who work at DIA haven’t seen a meaningful raise since they started working.

“For me, $15 isn’t just money,” Felix said. “It’s an acknowledgment of my dignity and contribution to the Denver airport. I’m not just fighting for me, I’m fighting for my daughter, my whole family, the Micronesian community in Denver, immigrant’s families from the airport and all working people in our city.”

United Airlines catering warehouse worker Amelton “Archie” Archelus said he’s proud to have worked at DIA for 19 years alongside his wife. He called it an “honor” to work at Colorado’s, “portal to the world.”

“I’ve given much of my life to this airport and I can tell that DIA is more successful than ever,” Archelus said. “I also know that my family and I, and all the airport workers who make DIA run deserve more.”

Erin Benson, a spokesperson for United Airlines, issued a statement to Denverite on Thursday about the worker’s announcement.

“United Airlines observes and complies with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations,” Benson said in the statement. “United Airlines is committed to treating all of our employees fairly, providing them with competitive compensation and industry-leading benefits and privileges and creating a safe, supportive work environment.”

DIA forwarded a question about Thursday’s announcement to Mayor Michael Hancock’s office.

“The Mayor has been an advocate for increasing the minimum wage and believes it is an important tool for addressing economic inequality,” Hancock’s communications director Amber Miller said in an email.  “While this measure has not been approved for the ballot yet, we are looking carefully at the impacts and want to make sure that the airport’s small business workforce and … concessionaires, including many minority-owned businesses, are protected.”

Denver Elections Division spokesman Alton Dillard said in an email that signatures for ballot initiatives for spring elections are due 120 days before the May 7, 2019, citywide elections.