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Saturday, November 2, 2013 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.

Pro: Minimum wage doesn’t provide families ‘livable wage’

By Nancy Bartley
Seattle Times staff reporter

They wear the labels of the companies that employ them on their clothing as they heft crates of food donated to the church’s food bank. Later, many will leave supplied with pasta, apples, cereal and instant mashed potatoes. And then, for the lucky, it’s back to work in or around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

For the Rev. Jan Bolerjack, pastor of Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila, the men volunteering to help with the food bank are as much a part of her congregation as those who sit in the pews on Sunday morning.

So when the labor-rights-advocacy group, Puget Sound Sage, approached her more than a year ago and asked her to join the Proposition 1 campaign to increase SeaTac’s minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers from $9.19 an hour to $15, it was an easy decision.

For Bolerjack, 57, being a Methodist minister at a suburban church means a lot more than youth groups, baptizing babies, visiting the sick and the annual rummage sale. At the simple square church with old, squeaky linoleum floors and a bell, she presides over community dinners attended by dozens, a twice-a-week food bank, and helps a number of families find shelter in Sunday school classrooms. She takes nine children of the homeless to the zoo and swimming and helps them with homework because they often have no one else.

The rest of the time Bolerjack devotes to pushing for a “livable wage” for the people she cares for.

Supporters say the proposition, which goes before SeaTac voters Tuesday, is about much more than wages. To them, it’s about working conditions and encouraging, but not requiring, employers to hire workers full time rather than splitting shifts among many who don’t come close to making a living wage. The proposition would also guarantee a minimum amount of paid sick leave.

To Bolerjack and other clergy, it’s common sense.

There are 93,474 people in the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma metropolitan area who work but still fall below the federal poverty guidelines, according to the U.S. Census, a 3 percent increase since 2005.

When families don’t make enough money to survive, “There’s such a ripple effect right down to the kids,’’ Bolerjack said. “They end up living in stress-filled homes because the parents aren’t able to cope. I see so many parents at the end of their rope, just trying to cope, to hold things together.’’

On a Tuesday morning, volleys of Russian conversation cut through the foggy air. Some men take a break and sit on plastic crates in the parking lot behind the church.

They take comfort in their common heritage. They are Russian Turks who came to the United States hoping for a life free from prejudice — in a land of plenty.

What they got: jobs that paid $9.19 an hour with far less than full-time work, no sick leave, no family leave.

Ismaap Abdiyev’s son was born two months early. When the boy went to school the “teacher said his head is no good,’’ Abdiyev said.

Abdiyev’s son has a neurological condition and is treated frequently at Seattle Children’s hospital. Abdiyev’s wife is also ill. Their care and transportation to appointments fall on Abdiyev, who has stopped working as a baggage handler.

“Maybe next month I can go back to work,’’ he said. In the meantime, he has no income.

Mansur Aladinov sat on a crate next to him. For two years he worked driving a truck used to load the planes with food. Then the contract ended and his full-time work was reduced to part time.

Bolerjack has heard it all. So has the Rev. Roger Barr at the United Methodist Church in Des Moines. That church sponsors the Des Moines Area Food Bank, which serves 4,000 individuals a month, one third of them from SeaTac.

“They are from families who do have employment and can’t make ends meet,’’ said Barr, who also has joined the Proposition 1 campaign.

The Rev. Mike Denton of United Church of Christ, the denomination’s regional director, also joined the campaign. “It felt irresponsible not to be part of it,’’ he said.

Although it’s a major contributor of social services to the poor in the Tukwila and SeaTac area, Bolerjack’s church has only 100 members — a David in the Land of Goliaths.

And that is her message one Sunday. Bolerjack stood before those in the pews and talked about courage and how individuals can accomplish enormous things by asking God for courage.

“How much courage does it take to speak up for some one else?” she asked. “Or to speak up for yourself””

Gene Balk contributed to this report. Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or

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