10_08_20 DIA 0019.jpg

Passengers arrive at the main terminal Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, as construction continues at Denver International Airport. 

The Denver City Council will soon vote on a proposal to expand employment displacement protections for contract workers, after the council finance committee unanimously approved the ordinance Tuesday.

Under the ordinance, if a contract that provides essential city services ends, the successor contractor must offer the existing contract workers right of first refusal. This ensures that front-line, essential workers remain employed during a transition period if outsourcing or a change in contractor occurs.

The ordinance would expand on the protections of Denver’s 2009 executive order under Mayor John Hickenlooper, which offered the same displacement protections to a smaller selection of service contract workers.

“This is taking a best practice that was working really well and making sure to catch a few workers who were missing,” said Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who sponsored the ordinance.

The ordinance would apply to approximately 18,000 more people working for Denver’s city buildings and cultural centers, including childcare workers, janitors, custodians, window cleaners, parking lot attendants and security guards.

Most significantly, the ordinance would open protections to workers at the Denver International Airport. Over 80% of those that would be newly protected under the ordinance are airport workers, including in lounge services, airline catering, baggage handling, cleaning and passenger assistance.

Workers exempt from the ordinance include managers, administrative personnel, professionals like attorneys, workers fired for cause and workers who perform one-time special event services.

Rose Medina works in the United Airlines catering kitchen in the airport. During Tuesday’s meeting, she said she and 500 of her coworkers are at risk of losing their jobs in the fall after United Airlines announced it plans to contract out flight catering work.

“It’s not fair that right now there are hundreds and hundreds of workers in the airport who are scared about whether we will have a job in a few weeks,” Medina said. “This year, Delta changed its catering contract in Detroit and hundreds of workers lost their jobs … will I get to stay?”

Wallace Vance, a wheelchair attendant at the airport, expressed similar anxiety about his job. Vance said he is a single parent of two young boys and this is the first job he has been able to get since he beat cancer.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I lost everything,” Vance said. “Being that this is my first job back in the workforce, not having that stability there is terrifying. … Most of the people I know, literally one paycheck is all it takes to lose everything you have.”

In addition to providing job security, Kniech said retaining existing contract workers is the most efficient and inexpensive option for the city, due to additional training costs for new employees and time spent on training, screening and security protocols, especially for airport workers.

"We as a city have institutional systems and it’s good and important to have essential workers who understand those,” Kniech said. “You also potentially have a gap in service when there’s a turnover.”

Departing contractors would have 60 days to notify workers they may be hired by the successor and provide the successor with a list of employee information.

The successor must hire workers at least 20 days in advance and in order of seniority. If the successor needs fewer workers than the departing contractor, not all workers may be hired.

If a contractor violates the ordinance, workers could make a complaint to the administering agency or file private cause of action, which could result in fines of $50 per day. However, Kniech said this is just a deterrent as the city has only received one violation complaint in 12 years under the current executive order.

At least 25 cities and counties in the U.S. already have similar worker retention laws in California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington D.C.

The ordinance will have to pass two full council votes before being implemented.