2 views of SeaTac’s Prop. 1
A look at the pros and cons of SeaTac’s Proposition 1, the measure that would raise the minimum wage in that city to $15 an hour.
Seattle Times staff reporter
An estimated 6,300 workers at 72 hospitality and transportation businesses in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and its nearby hotels, car-rental offices and parking lots
• Hotels with 100 or more rooms and at least 30 nonmanagerial employees
• Airport merchants with 10 or more nonmanagerial employees
• Airport contractors that perform such services as curbside check-in, baggage handling and aircraft fueling and have at least 25 nonmanagerial employees
• Restaurants and stores with 10 or more nonmanagerial employees inside large hotels
• Rental-car companies with a fleet of more than 100 cars and at least 25 nonmanagerial employees
• Shuttle services with a fleet of more than 10 buses or vans and at least 25 nonmanagerial employees
• Parking lots with more than 100 spaces and at least 25 nonmanagerial employees
SeaTac Proposition 1
Minimum wage: Raises the hourly minimum standard for hospitality and transportation workers to $15 from the current statewide minimum of $9.19. Annual increases would be tied to inflation and take effect each January.
Paid sick leave: Guarantees at least one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. Employers must pay workers a lump sum at the end of each year for any unused sick time.
Tip protection: Requires all mandatory service charges go to nonmanagerial workers who perform the tasks.
Promotion of full-time work: Employers must offer part-time workers more hours before hiring additional part-timers or subcontractors.
Employee retention: If an affected business is sold, the new owner must retain existing employees for at least 90 days.
Union waiver: Requirements may be waived in a collective-bargaining agreement.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2014.
Seattle Times staff research
Proponents and opponents of SeaTac’s Proposition 1, the measure that would raise the minimum wage in that city to $15 an hour, seem to break down into two camps: business owners are against it, and workers are for it. We talk to both camps.
Pro: Minimum wage doesn’t provide families ‘livable wage’
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””
Con: Businesses fear $15 hourly wage will cut into already thin profits
When Brett Habenicht was a kid, his first job was bagging groceries for $1.75 an hour.
“It didn’t take long for me to figure out that was not what I wanted to do with my life,’’ he said. Habenicht became a coffee roaster and co-owner of a Quiznos sandwich shop at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Minimum wage, he believes, should be a starting place — not a destination — for unskilled employees.
In the median of SeaTac’s International Boulevard, stand signs both for and against Proposition 1, which would give SeaTac the highest minimum wage in the United States.
The minimum wage in Washington state is now $9.19 an hour, but Proposition 1 would increase it for hospitality and transportation workers to $15 in SeaTac. Retail employers with fewer than 10 nonmanagerial employees would be exempt, Habenicht among them.
But like many business owners, he says he believes the increase could still affect him and cut into already slim profits.
About eight years ago, Habenicht bought into the Quiznos store owned by a friend. He said he thought the investment would help pay for his children’s college. The profits, however, have been low — sometimes $1,000 to $2,000 a month, he said.
If Proposition 1 passes, he fears it could cause the business to go under, not because it would directly force him to increase the salary of his employees — he has only seven — but because he would find it necessary to increase their wages to keep good workers.
“Who wants to work for us when you can walk a few steps down the concourse and work for someone who is not exempt and make $15 an hour?” Habenicht said.
“It definitely is an entry-level job. We’re talking making sandwiches. We try and hire strong candidates. Some have language barriers. We’re more than willing to work with them if the work ethic is there. We understand we are a steppingstone for a lot of these people and if we can help them get some great skills, albeit basic skills, great. We don’t expect anyone to make a career out of making sandwiches.’’
The main financial backing against the proposition comes from corporations such as Alaska Airlines, Filo Foods, BF Foods and the Washington Restaurant Association.
The opposition has formed the group Common Sense SeaTac and it argues that the city would lose businesses and revenue under the proposition.
At Taqueria El Rinconsito, the lunch crowd — police officers, firefighters, business people — fill the tables. Fifteen years ago, Abel Brambila moved to the Northwest from Los Angeles and opened a business in a taco truck. It was a success so he opened a taqueria in Burien. Now he has 17 from Yakima to SeaTac.
At the SeaTac location there are 15 employees. Raising their salaries to compete with a required $15-an-hour wage elsewhere, would be a disaster for the business, said Enrique Islas, a company spokesman.
Even when there are seasonal increases in the prices of food, “We have to keep the prices the same,” Islas said.
Traci Garrett at the airport wine shop Vino Volo also questions how Proposition 1 would affect her business. Vino Volo would not have to pay since the number of employees in SeaTac is 10, but Garrett, like the other business people, fears the indirect impact that might force the store to raise wages.
“Up our pay for employees and that will cut our margin quite a bit,” she said.
Amid the signs advertising airport-related services is an iconic one in yellow, white and black just off what once was called Highway 99. Loren Sisley’s Pancake Chef has been around for 53 years. It wouldn’t be directly affected by Proposition 1 because it is not located within a hotel or public facility.
Twenty-five full- and part-time employees make a base wage of $9.19 an hour, but with tips the income is from $20 to $25 an hour, he said.
While Sisley, who has owned the business for 40 years, understands and sympathizes with what Proposition 1 is trying to accomplish, he doesn’t support it as written because it doesn’t take tips into account in calculating wages. If he chose to raise salaries, then with tips included, his wait staff would make about $30 an hour, he said.
The cooks, who don’t get tips, already make about $15, a higher wage than the wait staff to compensate for a lack of tips. If he had to increase the wait staff’s basic salary, he’d have to increase the cooks’ as well. He’d also like to see the proposition exclude teenage workers.
“My hourly labor costs with benefits are right at 50 percent of every dollar we take in,” Sisley said. “You add the price of food, utilities and rent, and there is not much left for salaries.”
News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522
Information in this article, originally published Nov. 1, 2013, was corrected Nov. 2, 2013. A previous version of this story did not make clear that Taqueria El Rinconsito and Pancake Chef would not be directly covered by the ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for hospitality and transportation workers.