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Independent contractor schemes face federal crackdown

The U.S. Labor Department has scored three recent legal victories – including a ruling against DirecTV in Washington State – in its fight against the widespread use of contrived contracting schemes to illegally underpay workers. The court disputes all stem from alleged violations of minimum wage and overtime protections. In the case of DirecTV, the Labor Department won a ruling that allows its litigation to move forward against the company. A federal judge found that DirecTV qualified as a joint employer of 82 satellite dish installers in Washington State who worked for a now-defunct subcontractor called Advanced Information Systems or AIS. The Labor Department says the installers were paid piece rates for every job they did; they were not compensated for travel time between jobs or the amount of time a job took.

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Non-answers from the Marine Stewardship Council

Lee van der Voo's story last week on how a supposedly sustainable fishery is harming Native Alaskans is still lighting up social media. This month in SIDEBAR, an exclusive monthly dispatch from inside our newsroom just for InvestigateWest members, Robert McClure shares how a spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council ducked, dipped and dived around our questions about seafood sustainability. “But the Filet-O-Fish is the only thing I ever order at McDonalds!”

I’m pretty sure my wife Sally wasn’t the only one to express this sentiment when she read Lee van der Voo’s terrifically reported news analysis of a little-covered fight between Alaska Natives and a corporate-owned, Seattle-based fleet of trawlers that pulls in America’s single largest catch of fish. InvestigateWest called the story “A supposedly sustainable fishery is harming Native Alaskans.” That "sustainable" label comes from the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based group whose U.S. office is in Seattle. We'll get back to the MSC and how it justifies the label shortly.

Oregon Fire Risk Map

Forest restoration needs in Oregon

The abnormally warm, dry weather that parked itself over southern Oregon and much of the Northwest last winter could usher in a doozy of a fire season. Collaborative restoration projects aim to mitigate that danger, but money is scarce and huge swaths of the state are at risk. This map, based on an analysis of forest restoration needs by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service, shows how much forestland in each watershed requires restoration work. More from this Project

#HomeSweetPDX

Our staff is documenting the effects on Portland's homebuyers market as investors buy thousands of homes with cash. Add your photographs of the collection by using the hashtag #HomeSweetPDX on Instagram. Explore More of our Portland Housing Reporting

Winning in court just the first step for Bellingham wage theft victims

When workers get cheated out of wages, it’s often not enough just to win a court order for back pay. Often the court ruling is a hollow victory because the employer has gone out of business or claims to have little or no money to pay the judgment. That’s the challenge likely facing 101 workers who a jury last month awarded $1.3 million in back pay and damages from the co-owners of a restaurant and a spa in Bellingham, Wash. A lawyer for the employers said there is no way they will be able to pay. The case, detailed in a FairWarning story InvestigateWest published last year, was brought by the U.S. Department of Labor against Huang “Jackie” Jie and Zhao “Jenny” Zeng Hong and their businesses. The government’s civil suit highlighted the issue of low-skill immigrant workers who are victims of wage theft but resist complaining to authorities because they fear retaliation by their employers.