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Wage theft ordinance passes, despite opposition from Denver Chamber of Commerce: 'It's time that these criminal contractors pay their fair shares'

Wage theft ordinance passes in Denver
Wage theft ordinance passes in Denver 02:35

Labor workers and community members erupted in cheers on Monday, as a new wage theft ordinance was passed by the Denver City Council.

After years in the making, council members voted unanimously, for a bill that will create a pathway allowing the auditor to seek restitution for unpaid and underpaid workers. At least four council members sponsored the bill. One of the groups largely impacted by this is carpenters. Javier Santizo, with the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said this is a workers' rights issue, and with this passing, it means many of these workers will be able to get those unpaid wages a lot more quickly.

"It's time that these criminal contractors pay their fair shares," said Santizo. "This ordinance is necessary because it protects our local workforce, and it safeguards our communities, by the proper income coming into our communities."

Councilwoman Jaime Torres is one of the members who sponsored the bill that's been in the works since 2019. Torres said every year, millions of dollars are not paid to workers, impacting about 1 in 10 people. It's a problem that primarily hurts low-income workers, workers of color, women and immigrants.

"Workers are not only not aware about the potential protections and rights that they have, they also have a lot of fear," said Pamela Reséndiz Trujano, with Colorado Jobs with Justice. "A lot of the workers could be undocumented or are Spanish speaking, or they genuinely don't have the resources to hire an attorney, this will allow any amount to be recuperated."

This would also mean workers will be paid for overtime, working off the clock, or paid for when workers don't get a lunch break. Santizo and Reséndiz Trujano said this ordinance passing means accountability for employers, and sends the message that if workers aren't paid fairly, there will be consequences.

"It's going to benefit everyone," Reséndiz Trujano said. "We are extremely excited that we've gotten to this point and that it's going to protect workers and the city of Denver."

Opposition to this ordinance came from the business community, specifically the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. A spokesperson for the group said the chamber was concerned with how the ordinance would conflict with the new state wage law that took effect on Jan. 1, and its impact on small businesses.

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