Overdue paycheck: More than 50,000 General Motors workers have walked off the job across 50 sites in the United States. The strike is a response to the automaker’s movement of jobs to Mexico and to years of big profits after union workers accepted deep cuts in pay and benefits a decade ago, while the company was on the brink of collapse. “We literally gave up a lot during the bankruptcy and the American taxpayer gave up a lot,” Ashley Scales, a 32-year-old worker walking the picket line outside a Michigan plant told Neal E. Boudette of The New York Times. “We gave up twice because we pay taxes and we gave up in the contractual agreement. And now the corporation is making more profit than ever and they still want to play games.” Negotiations are ongoing, and workers are pushing for increased wages, assurances that more U.S. jobs won’t be eliminated, and a reduction in the use of low-cost temporary workers introduced in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Boudette writes that the GM strike could set the tone for negotiations between union employees and other automakers, and it could have far-reaching effects on GM suppliers. And as GM strikes have done before, this one marks an important moment for the American worker, Steven Greenhouse writes in the Times.
- Also: A California bill making its way toward a signature by Gov. Gavin Newsom could redefine the terms of the gig economy. –– Beaumont Health agreed to pay $400,007 in back wages to 476 employees after federal investigators found the company automatically deducted time for employee meal breaks at two residential care facilities in Michigan, even when those workers were unable to take a break. –– The Department of Labor has asked a federal judge to hold construction companies Force Corp. and AB Construction Group, plus two of their officers, in contempt for failing to pay the bulk of a $2.4 million payment in back wages and damages to 478 employees, as required by a 2016 judgment. Investigators found the companies improperly classified the workers as contractors to avoid paying overtime.
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A complex epidemic: A seventh person is confirmed dead from a lung illness linked to e-cigarettes, this one in California. The death was announced on Monday, the same day that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans for a crackdown on illegal vaping products and committed $20 million to a public awareness campaign on its dangers. As investigators continue to search for the exact cause, state and local officials are scrambling to find ways to control the public health crisis, building on efforts to curb an epidemic of e-cigarette use among children and teens. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that he would issue emergency regulations banning the sale of flavored e-cigarette liquids, which attract young users. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a similar move earlier this month. President Trump has said that he will, in the coming weeks, issue strong guidance requiring that flavored liquid be removed from the market. There have been at least 380 cases in which the link to vaping is considered confirmed or probable. That’s lower than previously reported, when more cases were under investigation.
- Also: Anecdotal evidence suggests that some e-cigarette users concerned about the safety of vaping are returning to cigarettes, Kaiser Health News reports. –– Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel of the Times report on an illegal e-cigarette “pen factory” run by two brothers out of a Wisconsin subdivision, where police found tens of thousands of empty cartridges waiting to be filled with THC-laced liquid.
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If a tree falls: There’s been a lot of talk about the role trees will play in containing the climate crisis or, in the case of the possible collapse of the Amazon rainforest, fueling it. More bad news on the forest front: Jan Ellen Spiegel writes in Quartz about how a new technique for measuring carbon storage raises the possibility that scientists have overestimated trees’ capacity as a carbon sink. And a new report warns that global deforestation has grown dramatically year over year in the past five years, despite an international pact aimed at stopping it, Georgina Gustin of InsideClimate News writes. “We’re losing the battle, so to speak, on stopping deforestation,” Craig Hanson, a vice president at the World Resources Institute, told Gustin. “This is a clarion call.”
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Debt collector reform: University of Virginia Health System has pledged to cut back its aggressive collection tactics, after Kaiser Health News reported that the nonprofit sued tens of thousands of patients over six years and pushed many families into bankruptcy. The health system said it would increase financial assistance, especially for uninsured patients, and would only take patients to court if a bill exceeded $1,000 and their income was at least four times the federal poverty threshold. Analysts said those changes were a good first step but not enough. “We believe this is much more generous than what we’re doing now,” Chief Financial Officer Doug Lischke told Kaiser Health News. As for patients already stuck in court proceedings, UVA hasn’t yet decided what to do with their cases.
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Clean Water repeal: The Trump administration has repealed the Obama-era Clean Water Act and is working on a replacement law that could eliminate federal protections from as much as half of all wetlands in the United States, according to an early draft analysis published by E&E News. President Trump called the 2015 law a “very destructive and horrible rule,” and court rulings have temporarily blocked the law in 28 states. The issue of wetlands conservation and the question of how big or how permanent the water must be to warrant protection has been fraught for decades. The repeal was heralded as a success by developers, electrical utility companies and the mining industry, for whom wetlands protections are often a limiting factor. Annie Snider of Politico writes that certainty on this front is unlikely until the Supreme Court takes up the matter again, and that may not happen for several years.
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A settlement in question: Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma has reached a settlement agreement with 24 states and more than 2,000 local governments that would provide up to $12 billion to mitigate the public health crisis of opioid addiction fueled by the company’s aggressive marketing of its painkiller and disregard for the consequences. Not all states are signing on. Half have rejected the deal and are pursuing their own cases in court. Meanwhile, Purdue has filed for bankruptcy, a first step in executing the settlement plan. What that means for the states’ own cases remains to be seen. Jan Hoffman and Mary Williams Walsh of the Times write that a showdown could come as soon as this week. Purdue has said it will ask a judge to bar attorneys general from pursuing litigation against either the company or members of the Sackler family who own it, Peg Brickley and Sara Randazzo of The Wall Street Journal report. The move won’t endear them to objectors who have argued that the Sacklers must pay more than the $3 billion they’ve promised under the settlement, an amount that allows them to retain much of their family wealth. “If they think they can use bankruptcy to escape accountability, after creating the worst public health crisis of our time, they are mistaken,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.
- Also: As the opioid epidemic was heating up, pharmaceutical companies plotted together to burnish their image, push blame onto federal regulators, and deliberately tie the hands of enforcement officials at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency who had begun to raise flags about large shipments of pills. Their plan worked perfectly, The Washington Post reports.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.