CURTIS GARDNER: Aurora minimum wage hike proposal is unethical, a hit to local businesses

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This coming Monday, my colleague Aurora Councilmember Alison Coombs has indicated that she plans to introduce and force a vote on a proposal that will increase the Aurora minimum wage to $17/hour. This move comes after she withdrew another minimum wage increase proposal after the business community in Aurora told her it’s been decimated by COVID-19 and cannot sustain any additional expenses. My colleague said she would table her proposal for a year to get more feedback. Instead she is attempting to push an increase through without giving many of us — including the businesses this would burden — a chance to review or weigh in on the proposal.

Aurora City Council Member Curtis Gardner

This is an egregious and unethical violation of the legislative process, the polar opposite of transparent governance, and a massive violation of the community’s trust. It also threatens to destroy the small, local businesses that make Aurora feel like Aurora.

Take the restaurant industry. Virtually no businesses have been harder hit during the pandemic than restaurants. According to Colorado Restaurant Association data, Colorado restaurants lost billions of dollars in revenue this year — nearly $1 Billion in April alone, thanks to the shutdown. It’s shed one-third of its jobs, a stunning number that’s even more consequential when you consider that restaurant jobs made up 10% of the state’s employment before COVID-19 hit. Half of these businesses may have to consider closing within six months — and that was before the recent capacity crunch to 25% in Adams County. Add a minimum wage hike of this magnitude, and we’ll lose even more jobs and more restaurants.

Restaurants and many other local businesses are scratching and clawing just to make it to the other side of the pandemic, and they’re desperate for cash to stay afloat. As a community, we should be doing everything we can to ease that burden, or we’re not likely to recognize our neighborhoods once this is over. Consider what we’d lose if we lost our neighborhood bar or diner, our dry cleaner or tailor, our florist or favorite quirky shop. And consider what the people employed by those businesses will lose if those places disappear.

Raising the minimum wage in the midst of a hundred-year pandemic is not easing that burden, it’s doubling down on it. I’m not willing to do that to any of my community’s businesses that are already under severe threat right now. And neither are other cities across the country, which have already called off minimum wage hikes that were planned.

If Councilmember Coombs moves forward with this backdoor plan on Monday, I’ll be voting a resounding no. I hope you’ll join me in asking the rest of my colleagues to do the same.

Curtis Gardner is an At-Large Councilmember for the City of Aurora.

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