Returns for underpaid workers: The U.S. Department of Labor has been busy. Investigators recovered a record amount of illegally underpaid wages during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, totaling $304 million. Among the provisions that the Wage and Hour Division enforces are those dictating minimum wage and overtime pay. The next largest amount recovered in the past 20 years was nearly $281 million in fiscal year 2012. “These record-breaking numbers confirm the department’s strong commitment to enforcing the law and providing employers with the tools they need to comply with the law,” Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said in a press release.
- Also: Investigators found that Asian employees at Omnicare of Northern Illinois were paid less than their non-Asian peers in similar positions, and the company agreed in a settlement to pay $300,000 in back wages and interest to 132 pharmacy technicians. — Lovin Contracting of North Carolina will pay nearly $1.3 million to 231 workers after investigators found the landscaping company violated provisions of the HB-2 temporary visa program, paying workers less than required and sometimes not paying overtime rates, according to a press release. — Coastal Staffing Services of Louisiana violated minimum wage and overtime provisions and failed to keep accurate records of employees who did recovery work in Southeast Texas after Hurricane Harvey. The company will pay $1.1 million in back wages to 1,412 people, according to a press release.
No rescue for lead paint makers: The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a California ruling that manufacturers knew their leaded paints were toxic and must pay for removal. The case was brought by seven counties and the cities of Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. An appellate judge last year limited the companies’ liability to houses built before 1951, which put them on the hook for about $400 million. David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times reports that the impact of the decision could be far reaching, prompting more lead paint cases and providing a basis for other lawsuits to hold manufacturers responsible when their products have contaminated drinking water supplies or, in the case of opioids, caused an addiction crisis.
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Disclosing drug prices: Pharmaceutical companies would be required to include the list price of their drugs in television ads under a plan announced Monday by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The draft rule is the boldest move yet by the Trump administration to rein in drug spending, write Amy Goldstein and Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post. A major health insurance trade group welcomed the proposal, and the American Medical Association said the added transparency is important, though that group opposes direct consumer advertising of medicine overall. But some analysts said the move amounted to little more than tough talk, noting that violators simply would be named on a list of offenders and that it’s not clear how much disclosing prices might affect prescribing patterns. Then there’s the likely legal battle. “It will take many months if not years for this regulation to be implemented and free from the cloud of litigation that will follow it,” Rachel Sachs, an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, told Shefali Luthra and Sarah Jane Tribble of NPR. “And the administration knows that.”
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Tragedy in Schoharie: Chuck Schumer, the U.S. Senate minority leader, has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate all future limousine crashes in order to better regulate the vehicles, after a stretch limousine crashed in upstate New York last week, killing 20 people, most of them friends out celebrating a birthday. Stretch limousines, which are made from cars or SUVs adapted after they leave the factory, typically are not subject to the same federal safety standards as the vehicles from which they’re made, and inspection requirements differ from state to state, Jim Dwyer of The New York Times writes. The vehicle involved in the crash, a 2001 Ford Excursion limousine, had repeatedly failed inspections, including one last month when it was cited for repeat problems with the braking system, Jesse McKinley and William K. Rashbaum of The Times report. The operator of the limousine company, Nauman Hussain, has been arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide. His father and owner of the company, Shahed Hussain, has a complicated past, including a criminal history, financial troubles, and time spent as an FBI informant.
- Also: Citing a fire hazard, the Center for Auto Safety has called for a recall of all 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonatas and Santa Fes, and Kia Sorentos and Optimas, as well as 2010-2015 Kia Souls. More than 220 complaints have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or with the consumer advocacy group about fires that started while driving.
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A red line on auto insurance: Two neighbors with similar driving records can have dramatically different auto insurance bills if their homes are in adjacent zip codes. In many cases the person paying more–sometimes much more–lives in a zip code with lower average household income and more people of color. The Consumer Federation of America analyzed premium quotes from six companies in 10 cities. Good drivers in lower-income zip codes, where residents are mostly people of color, were quoted premiums $410 higher on average than their neighbors in zip codes with higher income, areas that are predominantly white. The disparities were not the same across each company, and the quotes from one, Liberty Mutual, did not vary much between adjacent zip codes. “Insurance companies once drew red lines around communities they didn’t want to serve. Now they overprice them,” Douglas Heller, an independent insurance expert and one of the researchers on this project, said in a press release. “The fact that not all companies always toe this discriminatory line just highlights the fact that the practice of jacking up rates on someone for living on the wrong side of the street is arbitrary and unfair.”
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But is it organic?: A trio of Nebraska farmers have pleaded guilty to growing corn and soybeans using non-organic methods, including treating the crops with pesticides, and then selling them as organic. Federal prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of at least $10.9 million in the case, and seem to be targeting a large Iowa-based buyer identified as a co-conspirator, the Associated Press reports. The farmers, father and son Tom and James Brennan and family friend Michael Potter, have agreed to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud.
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Climate digest: The world has had one week to come to grips with the news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that things are worse than we thought. What has the U.S. government done since then? The Senate confirmed as the nation’s top environmental lawyer Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who in a prior job defended BP from lawsuits following the Deepwater Horizon disaster and who has called climate science “contestable.” And the president said on national television that, while he doesn’t deny the climate is changing, he isn’t certain the problem is man-made (it is). He thinks “it will change back again.” He made similar statements while touring the devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael on the Florida Panhandle, saying “hopefully we’ll go back” to the pattern of years past with few big storms. Meanwhile others are assessing the grim picture of how, if the world economy doesn’t adjust quickly and profoundly, climate change will exacerbate income inequality, create new global immigration crises and conflicts, and, as Al Gore put it, pose an “existential threat to human civilization on this planet as we know it.” What will it take to lessen the chance of those things happening? Taking meat off the menu would help. And slowing global warming enough to avoid catastrophic changes will require more than just weaning from fossil fuels. The world must also figure out how to capture some of the greenhouse gases that are already out there, through techniques such as soil sequestration, reforestation and other means, explains Sabrina Shankman of InsideClimate News.
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A backlog on gun seizures: Since June, a new Los Angeles County taskforce has seized more than 100 firearms from people who were prohibited from possessing them, but California Attorney General Xavier Becerra acknowledged a backlog of gun takeaways that grows each day. “Keeping up is difficult,” he said. Among the firearms seized were seven assault weapons.
- Also: Michael Dunn, a city commissioner in Lakeland, Florida, and an opponent of recent gun control efforts in that state, is under investigation for fatally shooting a shoplifter in his Vets Army Navy Surplus store. — Influential Republican donor Al Hoffman Jr. is drawing a line in the sand, Kara Voght of Mother Jones reports: He won’t support any candidate who doesn’t support a ban on assault weapons. — The National Rifle Association has added a new grade to its politician report card, worse than an ‘F’ and reserved for those endorsed by the group Everytown for Gun Safety: an Fx.
More action on e-cigs: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asked 21 e-cigarette companies for information on whether their products comply with the law, marking another step by the agency to control the rapid spread of e-cigarette use among youth. The latest letters target 40 products the agency says may have been illegally introduced or modified after the key date of Aug. 8, 2016. Products then on the market were grandfathered until 2022 when they are to be reviewed under a new set of safety standards. Some of the products in question are flavored liquids that are particularly appealing to children and teens. USA Today reports that the agency also sent a warning letter to a Chinese company believed to have sold e-liquids containing the active ingredients from erectile dysfunction drugs Cialis and Viagra.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.