Rafael Cueto Rios, left, stands with his wife and a group of workers at a news conference outside of the Colorado Department of Labor offices in downtown Denver on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. The group was calling for Colorado's minimum wage laws to apply to everyone. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

More low-wage workers will be covered by the Colorado laws governing overtime pay and breaks under a draft policy change released Monday afternoon, which also would dramatically raise the salary threshold at which employers no longer have to pay their employees overtime.

The draft represents a major win for Colorado labor groups, who have long been pushing for the changes and say they’re decades in the making. Although the organizations didn’t get everything they wanted, they were still celebrating Monday’s announcement as a major improvement. 

Dennis Dougherty, executive director of the AFL-CIO in Colorado, said called the draft “an important step towards changing that reality for workers across the state.”

MORE: Read more about the order.

“This order helps ensure that more Colorado employees are fairly compensated, receive basic job protections and are not forced to work excessively long hours without being paid an extra penny,” Dougherty said in a written statement.

Currently, there are only four classes of workers covered by Colorado’s overtime and break protections, including people who have jobs in retail and service, commercial support, food and beverage, and health and medical. That’s left construction workers, farm workers, manufacturing employees and domestic home helpers outside the rules. 

The proposed policy changes released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, would change that, bringing most professions under the broader umbrella. 

However, while the draft calls for agricultural workers to be granted some breaks, it doesn’t afford them overtime and minimum wage protections, a carveout that labor organizations were immediately concerned about.

“These are among the most marginalized and vulnerable workers in our state, and they’ve been historically excluded from many critical protections,” said David Seligman, executive director of the labor organization Towards Justice. “The CDLE should go further in ensuring that our basic minimum labor standards are extended to everyone.

MORE: Colorado’s minimum wage rules don’t apply to farm, construction and other jobs. But that might be changing.

Also under the proposed rules, starting in March salaried workers who make less than $42,500 a year must be granted overtime pay. That threshold is slated to increase annually to $57,500 by 2026, the draft says. 

Under current law, most salaried workers don’t have to be paid overtime as long as the amount they are making each year is roughly equivalent to minimum wage.

“We are going to be urging the agency to cut back on that ramp up period,” Seligman said. “Overwork and underpay are a problem right now.”

The final rules are slated to be released on Jan. 10 after a public hearing on Dec. 16 and a comment deadline that ends on Dec. 31. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment drafted the rules and will decide on their final version.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....