CEOs living large – really, really large: The New York Times has published an accounting of the highest paid CEOs at American companies in 2017 and how their compensation compares to median pay for their workers. It’s painful to read. A Walmart employee would have to work more than 1,000 years at the company’s median salary of $19,117 to earn the more than $22 million that chief executive Doug McMillon made last year. For a McDonald’s worker, it would take 3,100 years to match Steve Easterbrook’s 2017 compensation. Publicly traded companies had to begin revealing their pay ratios this year, under the 2010 Dodd-Frank banking reform law. At Incyte, the gap was a more modest 65 years, but that involved a technicality. The company outsources its low-paid factory work, and that keeps its median pay high, David Gelles notes.
- Also: The owner of Island Fish Company Restaurant in Marathon, Florida, will pay $210,258 in back wages to 78 employees after federal investigators found the company failed to pay required overtime.
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Not-so-auto Autopilot: Tesla has engaged in “deceptive and unfair” marketing of its Autopilot feature, leading consumers to believe that the vehicles are safer operating on their own than they actually are, according to a letter sent to the Federal Trade Commission by the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog. The groups argue that the technology is more in line with what other carmakers advertise as providing “driver assistance” or “active safety.” The company faces scrutiny following two recent crashes in which Autopilot is suspected to have had a role. Separately, Tesla’s Model 3 recently failed a review by Consumer Reports, which cited long emergency braking distances and difficult-to-use controls. The company has begun an update to improve braking.
- Also: An Uber self-driving SUV’s emergency braking functions were turned off when it struck and killed a woman in Arizona in March. That was by design: The company had disabled them, expecting the test driver to take control as needed, “to reduce potential for erratic behavior,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
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Teething products pulled: As a parent, it can be hard to bear a baby in pain from teething. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning not to reach for the Orajel or other over-the-counter products containing the topical pain reliever benzocaine. It’s been linked to a condition called methemoglobinemia, which can dramatically lower the amount of oxygen carried in baby’s blood. The FDA has asked manufacturers to stop distributing the over-the-counter products intended for teething pain. The maker of Orajel said it would discontinue four products. The action from the FDA comes nearly four years after Public Citizen petitioned the agency to ban the teething products and require stronger warnings on other products containing benzocaine. The consumer group said in a press release that the FDA’s action was an important step but “comes too late for some infants and children.”
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The U.S. should invest more in public health. But how? The list of 20th century advancements made by public health efforts is astounding: Polio and smallpox eliminated. Measles and diptheria, all but. Public health campaigns helped control HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. They led to cleaner air and water, safer roads and workplaces, a significant drop in tobacco use, lower infant and maternal deaths, and a host of other improvements. So, health policy scholars Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt ask in The Upshot, why do we spend so little on public health today? Government spending on public health is dwarfed by what people spend on direct health care. “This is made more surprising by the fact that public health investments are often so valuable that they pay for themselves,” they write. “There’s no reason not to make them.”
- Also: Pfizer has agreed to pay nearly $24 million to settle a claim that it violated an anti-kickback statute by using a foundation to repay Medicare recipients the out-of-pocket costs for using Pfizer drugs. –– A California court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay nearly $26 million to a woman who said her asbestos-related cancer was linked to long-term use of the company’s baby powder. A similar South Carolina case ended in mistrial.
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Reporters push back on PFAS summit: The Environmental Protection Agency’s move to bar several reporters from a national conference on drinking water contamination by a class of chemicals linked to cancer, reduced fertility and immune problems, “beggars understanding,” the Society of Environmental Journalists said in a letter to Administrator Scott Pruitt. “But these are just the latest additions to your pattern of antagonism toward the press, and disregard for the public’s right to know what EPA is or is not doing to protect their health and the environment,” the letter reads. Guards at the summit reportedly shoved Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press, when she was waiting for a staff member to come speak with her about why she was not permitted at the summit on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Umair Irfan of Vox wrote a full account of the incident, with context on the EPA’s history of blocking the press. The agency had claimed there was no room for the reporters (“patently ridiculous,” the SEJ responded) and later relented. Meanwhile, the EPA has said it will host five regional meetings on PFAS contamination, starting June 25-26 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the chemicals were found in 2014 in wells at the site of the former Pease Air Force Base.
Climate in the courts: As lawsuits filed by San Francisco, Oakland and other municipalities seeking damages from major oil companies to address the effects of climate change move forward, Adam Rogers of Wired asks the question that a federal judge in California is grappling with: Are the courts the right place to deliberate who is to blame for this global problem? “The really big question about whether a city can sue an oil company for climate change isn’t the climate change part,” Rogers writes for Wired. “It’s the ‘sue’ part.” He looks back at 20 years of thinking on the topic.
- Also: People who live in warmer climates have a higher risk of acquiring a drug-resistant infection, new research published in Nature Climate Change has found, and that does not bode well for a warming planet. –– EPA officials worked closely with a conservative organization that denies climate change in planning to bolster its message at public hearings and show support for Pruitt’s leadership, the Associated Press reported. –– A scientist surveying the honeybee population said deaths increased last year, possibly linked to erratic weather and a changing climate, Bloomberg reports.
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Purdue Pharma and the opioid fight: While the basic facts are hardly shocking at this point, some details are still startling, perhaps more so now that the toll of the opioid epidemic has become clearer: Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, knew within the first years that the drug went to market that it was being abused and hid that information, according to a 2006 confidential Justice Department report detailed by Barry Meier of The New York Times. Even as the company received reports that Oxycontin was being stolen from pharmacies and the drug crushed and snorted, and even as one sales representative wrote in a 1999 email that “we have a credibility problem with our product,” Purdue continued to market OxyContin as less likely to be abused or cause addiction than other prescription opioids. Federal investigators in 2006 recommended that top executives at Purdue be indicted on felony charges. Instead, the Bush administration settled the case in 2007. “Over the past two decades,” Meier writes, “more than 200,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses involving prescription opioids.”
- Also: At three test sites in the urban waters of Puget Sound, mussels tested positive for opioids. “What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound,” Jennifer Lanksbury, a Washington state biologist told KIRO. “It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area.”
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A deadly explosion and a CEO bonus: An explosion at a natural gas drilling rig in Quinton, Oklahoma, killed five workers, highlighting a record of worker deaths at Patterson-UTI drilling sites and prompting wrongful death lawsuits filed against the company by the widows of several workers. Still, Patterson CEO Andy Hendricks received a $2.25 million bonus for 2017, bringing his total compensation to more than $14 million, according to Energywire. This month, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a coalition of unions and other nonprofits, put Patterson on its list of “The Dirty Dozen” companies who put workers at risk.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.