News & Notes

Wednesday

California Regulators Propose $1.4 Billion Fine for Deadly Gas Pipeline Blast in 2010

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. faces biggest utility fine ever in California over the explosion that killed eight in San Bruno. Regulators proposed that the company, California’s biggest utility, pay $1.4 billion for the 2010 pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area community. The decision by two administrative law judges at the California Public Utilities Commission was based on 3,798 alleged violations of state and federal laws and regulations that govern gas pipeline safety and operations. In addition to the deaths, the explosion and firestorm in San Bruno, near San Francisco International Airport, destroyed 38 houses and injured 66 people. Federal investigators concluded that the blast — which left a 167-foot crater in the street — was caused by defective welds in the 54-year-old, 30-inch-diameter pipe. The company still faces 27 federal criminal charges related to allegations it lied to officials investigating the disaster. Los Angeles Times

Second-biggest U.S. drugstore chain stops selling tobacco, a month ahead of schedule. CVS Caremark also said it is changing its name to CVS Health. In February CVS said it would rid all of its stores of tobacco products by Oct. 1, forgoing $2 billion in annual sales. The financial risk was balanced by the hope that being the first major pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco would create a public relations halo. CVS is banking that the distinction can help it win business in other parts of the company, like administering prescription-drug programs for clients, and position it as a broader provider of basic health services. But it is unclear whether the move has yielded any financial benefits, and no other national pharmacy chain has followed CVS in dropping cigarettes. The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press

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Tuesday

Report Finds Global Surge in People With Access to Clean Water

WHO assessment says more than 2 billion have gained access to improved drinking water since 1990. In addition, the World Health Organization found that about 4 billion people now have achieved the gold standard: Clean is water piped directly into their homes. That’s well over half the world’s population. The movement toward providing universal access to clean water has been the result of a massive global effort by governments, philanthropists and nongovernmental organizations. Still, the WHO says improved sanitation operations still are needed, and the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations in 1990 for upgrading those operations is expected to be missed. That will leave 2.4 billion people without protection from contaminated water. Separately, a research organization pointed out that the anticipated global boom in fracking — an energy drilling technique that requires lots of fresh water — could leave countries in the difficult position of choosing between seeking more oil and gas or ensuring water supplies for their citizens. The Christian Science Monitor, Fortune

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Blueberry pickers at a farm in Hillsboro, Oregon. (Photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian)

Heat Rising Over ‘Hot Goods’

Growers Accused of Wage Violations Fight Labor Department's Tactic of Halting Farm Shipments

An attempted crackdown on minimum wage and child labor violations at berry farms in the Pacific Northwest has sparked a backlash that threatens one of the U.S. Labor Department’s most potent tools for enforcing protections for farm workers. At issue is the little-known “hot goods” provision of federal wage law. It allows the government to […]

Packs of Marlboro, the most popular cigarette brand, and images of how the pack would have looked with two  of the graphic warning labels ordered by the FDA in June, 2011. In a 2009 law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, Congress directed the FDA to create graphic warnings covering 50 percent of the front and back of cigarette packs to replace the text warnings on the side of the pack that have been unchanged since the 1980s. But a group of tobacco companies, led by cigarette makers R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, sued the FDA, contending the labeling rule violated their 1st Amendment Rights.  (Note, Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA did not join the lawsuit)  U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon agreed with the companies, and his order rejecting the labeling rule was later upheld on appeal. FDA officials say they are working on a new set of warnings. (photos by David LaFontaine).

Tobacco Industry Batting a Thousand With Federal Judge, While FDA Strikes Out

What are the odds? In 2009, Congress passed landmark legislation directing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, aiming to cut the toll from the leading preventable cause of disease and death. Three times since, however, cigarette and e-cigarette companies have filed successful legal challenges to thwart rules intended to make their products […]

Zach Roberts FairWarining Reports

Latino Workers Dying at Higher Rates in Job Accidents, Report Shows

As Latino workers take on more and more of the nation’s toughest and dirtiest jobs, they increasingly are paying for it with their lives. Preliminary federal figures released last week showed that of the 4,405 U.S. workers killed on the job in 2013, 797 were Latinos. That equates to 3.8 of every 100,000 full-time Latino employees in […]

iStock photo. FairWarining Reports

Federal Wage Investigation Snags Another Major League Baseball Team, the Oakland A’s

A third Major League Baseball team—the Oakland Athletics—has agreed to pay back wages and damages to a group of current and former employees to resolve government claims that they had been illegally underpaid. In a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Athletics agreed to pay $266,358 to 86 employees. Among them were clubhouse […]

FairWarning Investigates

March, 2011 crash at a 7-Eleven store in Midland, Texas (Photo by Roger Primera)

Bread, Milk and Mayhem

Storefront Crashes More Common Than You Think, and Often Preventable

Just as Kimmy Dubuque was about to enter a Cumberland Farms convenience store to get a cup of coffee, she was struck and killed by an SUV. Police said the SUV, driven by an 81-year-old man who suffered a stroke, had sped through the parking lot of the Chicopee, Mass., store and smashed into the […]

A wage theft protest in Seattle. Photo credit to Alex Garland/Demotix.

Fear Stifles Complaints of Wage Abuse

Karim Ameri decided to play hardball after learning that his Los Angeles recycling business was under investigation for allegedly failing to pay the minimum wage or overtime to workers putting in 60-hour weeks. Court records say Ameri pressured employees of Recycling Innovations, a string of bottle-and-can redemption centers, to lie to federal officials about his […]

A Walmart Warehouse Workers for Justice protest in Illinois. Photo credit to Peoplesworld/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Pay Violations Rampant in Low-Wage Industries Despite Enforcement Efforts

For workers stuck on the bottom rung, living on poverty wages is hard enough. But many also are victims of wage theft, a catch-all term for payroll abuses that cheat workers of income they are supposedly guaranteed by law. Over the last few years employers ranging from baseball’s San Francisco Giants to Subway franchises to […]

Despite High Death Toll, Push Is On To Open More Public Roads to ATVs

Despite High Death Toll, Push Is On To Open More Public Roads to ATVs

Last Mother’s Day, Jaret Graham, 14, climbed on the back of an all-terrain vehicle driven by his 12-year-old cousin. As they sped down a paved stretch of country road in west Texas, the 12-year-old lost control, went into a ditch and fell off the vehicle, injuring his leg. Jaret was thrown off and hit his […]

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FairWarning Reports

Courtesy of Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association. FairWarining Reports

Showdown With Industry Looms as Safety Rules for Off-Road Vehicles Advance

Rebuffing off-road vehicle manufacturers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voted today to move forward with rules aimed at preventing rollover crashes that have killed hundreds of riders. The rules would include minimum handling and stability standards for the popular trail machines known as recreational off-highway vehicles, or ROVs. The vehicles also would be engineered […]

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Commentary

Did the Labor Department’s ‘Hot Goods’ Crackdown on Farmers Go Too Far?

The federal Department of Labor has for decades used a little-noted enforcement tool to compel employers to observe laws governing minimum wages, overtime pay and child labor. The enforcement tool is known at the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which lets the Labor Department bar an employer from selling or shipping […]

‘Stand Up to Cancer’ Not Standing Up to Cigarette Promoters

In three previous national telethons, Stand Up To Cancer has raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars for cancer research. Contributions to the “War on Cancer” pledged in the fourth such telethon on September 5 would seem to be welcome. But several sponsors that were praised in the telecast appear to be doing […]

FairWarining Commentary

A Little History and a Reality Check on GM Safety Scandal

When General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared before Congress in early April to apologize for the company’s 10-year cover-up of a lethal safety defect, it was a headline-grabbing moment. But it was not unprecedented. Hovering over  Barra was the ghost of another momentous GM mea culpa, delivered to Congress nearly half a century ago. On […]