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How government and Boeing fought to curtail Duwamish River cleanup

Photography: Paul Joseph Brown/ecosystemphoto.com

After a decade of studies that cost millions of dollars, the time had come for the people living around Seattle’s biggest toxic mess to tell the government what a cleanup should look like.

On a spring night in 2013, Spanish-speaking residents of south Seattle approached a microphone that sat beneath the basketball hoop at the South Park Community Center. One by one, they envisioned a new future for the Duwamish River and the neighborhoods it passes through. Today those neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown are home to some of King County’s highest rates of hospitalization for childhood asthma. Locals regularly fish the river, despite government prohibitions due to high levels of toxic chemicals in seafood caught there.

Clean up as much as you can, the people said, overwhelmingly.

InvestigateWest is hiring!

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Do you know someone who is passionate about journalism and passionate about our community?

We are hiring an events and outreach manager and we need your help to find the perfect candidate, someone who can help us to grow public support and revenue for the organization.

The brand-new position has been created to run our events, coordinate with members, and develop an audience for our stories in fun, creative ways.

The full job listing is here: http://www.invw.org/about/jobs.

Send applications, questions, or candidates to staff@invw.org with the subject line "Events and Outreach Manager". Thank you!

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Senior centers lag behind Alzheimer’s rising tide in Oregon

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Music therapist Keeley St. Clair sings with Lake Oswego residents Tom Moore (left) and Robert Russell at the Adult Community Center. Respite classes are led by music, art and horticultural therapists. 
Photo Credit: VERN UYETAKE/LAKE OSWEGO REVIEW

Art Martin saw his wife Sue through her dementia diagnosis and treatment. Now when he talks to others about her, it’s rare, he said, when he doesn’t hear a story of a relative, a parent or a spouse that echoes his own: Martin was completely unprepared for his new responsibilities.

“I’d read a little bit and knew there were some potential issues,” said Martin, who lives in Lake Oswego. “But basically I was ignorant.”

The story of Art and Sue Martin matters because increasingly Oregonians will have to pay to care for an aging population where Alzheimer’s and dementia are on a sharp uptick. Right now in Oregon, nearly 60,000 adults suffer from Alzheimer’s. By 2025, that number is set to jump to 84,000 — almost two percent of the population.

Yet senior centers, an important provider of services to older adults and a local link to state and federal safety net programs, are frequently unprepared to serve people with Alzheimer’s and the family members who care for them.

How unprepared? One recent study by a Washington University in St. Louis scientist found that senior center workers know less, on average, about Alzheimer’s than the typical university student.

That lack of knowledge among senior center workers worries some of their bosses.

“I think that we need to develop some additional skills and capacity on the part of our staff,” said Susan Getman, chair of the National Institute of Senior Centers, an arm of the National Council on Aging, who also serves as executive director of a center in Wilmington, Delaware.

But the training Getman advocates costs money. And it could mean a change in how senior centers identify themselves in the community, one Portland State University researcher is learning.

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Mayor's budget shorts Seattle’s historic labor-law efforts, advocates say

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed legislation earlier this year to raise the city's
minimum wage to $15 an hour. Credit: City of Seattle

Under Mayor Ed Murray Seattle has passed a historic $15 minimum wage, is redoubling efforts to fight wage theft by employers and is about to become the second major city in the nation to set up a city office specifically to enforce labor laws.

But as the City Council meets Thursday for its second of two public hearings on Murray’s proposed budget, worker advocates say Murray’s spending plan would undermine Seattle’s progressive labor ordinances. There’s not enough to staff the enforcement office or make sure workers know about the laws and whom to call if they are violated, critics say.

And compared to the budget in the only other American city to embark on such a campaign, San Francisco, Seattle’s budget does indeed look pretty small.

“The amount of money allocated was very low,” said Hilary Stern, executive director of Casa Latina and a member of a panel of advisors Murray assembled on the issue.

So Thursday worker advocates will be asking the City Council to boost funding for the labor-enforcement office and for community groups such as Casa Latina that are supposed to go out into the community to make sure workers know about the $15 minimum wage and the city’s ban on wage theft.

Last month a group of stakeholders appointed by Murray, including business owners, labor advocates and wage experts, finished hammering out what needed to be in the mayor’s 2015-16 budget. Known as the Labor Standards Advisory Group, these 16 people issued seven pages of recommendations for Murray and the City Council.

So, what was recommended and how did that end up translating into the budget?

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In Oregon, Gangs Take Over as Sex Trafficking Goes Offline

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PORTLAND —This river city along Interstate 5 has long had a reputation as a hotspot for child sex trafficking, even after a 2010 report to Congress made it clear that Seattle and other American cities are just as bad and that sex with children is a burgeoning American pastime.

It’s a sad truth many communities have yet to embrace. But consider the numbers:

Police say escort ads for young women are a good barometer of the size of a trafficking market in any town — women billed as young but legal who often turn out to be minors. The Portland metro area, population 2.3 million, saw 377 total listings for escorts in a recent week on the web site Backpage. Seattle, with a metro-area population of 3.5 million, had 523 — roughly the same rate per capita. In Atlanta, where the population is three times larger, there were more than 1,100 listings.

Lots is happening in Portland to combat the problem of children being forced into the sex trade – usually by pimps who first present themselves as boyfriends. In Portland, authorities have learned lessons that are important for Seattle and other cities along I-5 corridor, which enables sex trafficking to stretch to Southern California:

  • Trafficking of minors for sex increasingly is handled by gangs rather than individual pimps.
  • These gangs who previously squared off over riskier crimes like drug dealing are cooperating to help each other evade police as prostituting minors becomes a larger and safer staple of their income stream.
  • The gangs and others prostituting girls – 96 percent were female in a 2013 Portland study – are learning to promote their victims via word of mouth, phones, sex parties, and publications handed out on the street rather than the more-easily-traceable internet channels of, say, five years ago.
  • Much of this activity is occurring around concerts and major sporting events such as the Super Bowl – anywhere large congregations of men are expected.

As the deputy sheriff heading the Human Trafficking Task Force in Multnomah County, Ore., Keith Bickford is acutely aware of these trends. And he’s grateful to have a special helper, a woman who works as an advance guard at concerts and sporting events. When she gets there, she snaps up magazines and brochures from the sex trade.

Among the latest was a tabloid-sized glossy, a barely dressed girl on the cover poised over a line of cocaine.

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Region’s largest auto dealer accused of wage theft, discrimination

Many wage theft cases involve relatively small amounts of money, often promised in an oral agreement and paid in cash. Not so with a lawsuit filed against O’Brien Auto Group in King County Superior Court today, which could impact hundreds of current and former employees who allegedly were promised more than they were paid for selling cars at the company’s dealerships.

The suit was brought by an immigrant from India who seeks to broaden his complaint to a class action, and who also filed a second suit Tuesday accusing O’Brien of discriminating against him because of his racial background.

The O’Brien Auto Group claims to be the largest auto dealer in the Pacific Northwest, with annual sales exceeding $500 million. Repeated attempts Tuesday to reach managers of the O’Brien company for comment on the suits were unsuccessful.

If true, the allegations would comport with a pattern InvestigateWest revealed in August: Employers failing to pay overtime, minimum wage or, as alleged in this case, promised commissions.

The lead plaintiff in the proposed class-action suit, car salesman Ruhul Kayshel, worked at O’Brien Auto Group’s Toyota-Scion of Kirkland dealership from October 2012 to July 2014. The suits say he was fired after complaining to human resources about what he described as blatantly racist comments made by one of his supervisors.

Often working as many as 84 hours a week and selling 40 cars a month, Kayshel was among the top O’Brien salesmen in the region, he says.  In the suit, Kayshel claims that Toyota-Scion of Kirkland failed to pay him as stipulated in a sales compensation plan.

This is part of what Seattle attorney Stephen Teller, who specializes in discrimination and employment law, describes as a “widespread pattern of wage theft by paying salespeople smaller commissions than (O’Brien) owes them under their employment contracts.”

When asked how much the dealership owed him, Kayshel was quick to respond, “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Seattle mayor: Education, then enforcement, on wage theft and sick leave

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray with Councilman Nick Licata at Monday's press conference.
Photo: City of Seattle

Clutching a copy of Politico lauding his leadership in passing the $15 minimum wage, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday proposed creating a city office to police employers who cheat employees out of their wages or sick leave.

Murray’s proposed Office of Labor Standards would also crack down on employers who illegally use arrest records to guide hiring decisions. In general, the office would serve as a one-stop shop for both aggrieved workers and employers trying to ensure they comply with Seattle’s progressive labor laws, Murray said.

“We must be proactive in working with business and with labor in making sure that these laws are complied with and that they are understood,” Murray said at a news conference Monday.  “My budget plan to the City Council will include new tools to help educate, and where necessary enforce, worker protection.”

Murray’s announcement is based on recommendations by a city advisory committee that included business and labor representatives. The new seven-person city office would represent an increase of 5.5 city personnel devoted to the issue.  It would be housed in the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

The new office would at first focus on educating business owners and employees about their rights and responsibilities, later moving into the role of investigator and enforcer of Seattle’s wage laws.

“Education will be the primary focus of this office in the near term,” said Murray. “This is not about gotcha, this is about helping folks.”

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Reporter Conversation: Wage Theft in Washington

Seattle can raise the minimum wage, but can the city enforce it? Jason Alcorn talked with KUOW's Marcie Sillman about that question — and what our reporting on wage theft means for Washington workers.

Listen in!

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