1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2018
  4. July

News in July 2018

Browse by year

2018

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    MoviePass borrows an emergency $5 million to keep its service alive

    The company continues to add caveats to its all-you-can-watch model

    To spin a line from “The Godfather,” MoviePass’ mantra of “I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse” took a turn for the worse over the weekend.

    First, the subscription-based movie ticketing service had to take out a $5 million emergency loan to pay fulfillment partners so customers could keep using the service.

    It seems MoviePass’ parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, had failed to pay the companies that are in charge of customers’ payments, so the contractors simply stopped processing the payments which, in turn, left MoviePass customers without a way to buy tickets.

    Ironically, the title of the new Tom Cruise movie -- ‘Mission: Impossible - Fallout’ -- was next on MoviePass’ list of faux pas as customers were prevented from seeing the new flick.

    MoviePass danced around the heart of the matter when it tweeted out its “issues” on Thursday. First it was, “To our subscribers - we are aware an investigating an issue that is preventing users from checking-in to movies this evening. We ask for your patience as we look into this and recommend waiting for further updates before heading to the theater.”

    Then it was, “We are still experiencing technical issues with our card-based check-in process and we are diligently working to resolve the issue.”

    That was later followed up with, “We've determined this issue is not with our card processor partners and will be continuing to work on a fix throughout this evening and night. If you have not headed to the theater yet, we recommend waiting for a resolution or utilizing e-ticketing which is not impacted.”

    So, what’s it going to be, MoviePass?

    The company’s CEO Mitch Lowe did his best to rally MoviePass’ 3 million users, but his comments veered more towards the new demand-based pricing model and away from the $9.95 a month all-you-can-see model.

    “As we continue to evolve the service, certain movies may not always be available in every theater on our platform,” Lowe said in a statement on Friday. “The first of those features, Peak Pricing, has rolled out nationally. Bring-a-Guest and Premium Features will begin rolling out soon.”

    Lowe’s hue and cry about MoviePass trying to “fundamentally change an industry that hasn’t evolved much in years” is a worthy crusade, but are moviegoers willing to work through the subscription’s provisos in order to get a good deal?

    “Don't get me wrong. Between the $5m loans and mission impossible and the surges costing as much as a ticket, moviepass is doomed,” wrote a subscriber on Reddit.

    “But i'm gonna ride it till the end because surge pricing and card outages and stub photos don't affect partner theaters with e-ticketing. And it just so happens that my local e-ticketing theaters have the specific releases I am most interested in. And amc a-list is the better service but amc does not get the movies I like. I will be milking this service until the day it dies.”

    For the movie buff -- particularly those patient enough to work within MoviePass’ rules -- $9.95 a month for all-you-can-watch can still be a pretty good deal -- especially when you compare that to the cost of a single ticket. The National Association of Theater Owners reported that the average ticket price for a movie was $9.16 in the first quarter of 2018 versus the same quarter a year ago at $8.84.

    To spin a line from “The Godfather,” MoviePass’ mantra of “I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse” took a turn for the worse over the weekend....
    Read lessRead more

    YouTube's website now supports vertical videos without black bars

    The company rolled out the update on Friday

    Last Friday, YouTube announced an update that allows users to stream vertical videos on their desktops with no black bars on the side. With the update, the video’s aspect ratio is automatically adjusted to fit a computer’s screen size. YouTube announced the update in its user forums.

    The update had already hit mobile devices on both Android and iOS, swapping the black bars on the side on small videos for an expanded video when possible or white space in other cases.

    “Historically, for non-widescreen videos (not 16:9) like vertical and square videos, we would show black bars alongside the video, making the video really small,” YouTube explained. “This update moves away from the need for black bars. We launched this update on mobile awhile back (both Android and iOS) so this change also aligns the desktop and mobile viewing experience.”

    Videos that will be affected by the update are those in standard 16:9, vertical videos, and the older 4:3 format. The update is intended to make videos outside of the standard 16:9 aspect ratio easier to view, as well as allow YouTube to compete with other platforms that do not display black bars.

    User response to the update

    Though the update is still rather new, YouTube has received some backlash from users, as the response has been mostly unfavorable.

    In the days following the update, users have complained that the videos are even smaller than before, parts of the video are cut off, and the quality of videos has decreased. One user wrote of her experience with a video that was larger than 640 x 480, but with the new update, the video was forced into a 640 x 480 screen. Parts of the video were allegedly cut off, and she noted poor quality.

    “Some YouTube videos just don’t look good when the screen is big,” the user wrote. “Either give us a way to opt out of this, or fix it.”

    Last Friday, YouTube announced an update that allows users to stream vertical videos on their desktops with no black bars on the side. With the update, the...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Pending home sales rise in June

      Realtors see it as a sign that the worst of the housing shortage is over

      Pending homes sales, a measure of real estate contracts signed but not yet closed, rose in all four regions of the country in June, suggesting that the housing shortage is getting less severe.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that signed contracts rose a healthy 0.9 percent from May. Year-over-year, however, pending sales are still down 2.5 percent.

      The industry has been well aware of the growing shortage of homes, as builders have cut back on construction and owners of existing homes have hesitated to sell -- in part because of the growing trend among baby boomers to age in place.

      Easier to find a home

      Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says an uptick in existing inventory helped lift contract signings in June.

      "After two straight months of pending sales declines, home shoppers in a majority of markets had a little more success finding a home to buy last month," he said.

      Yun believes homes should be selling at a higher rate, but says it's not enough that the economy is growing and hiring has remained steady. Rising home prices and mortgage rates have made the small inventory of homes even smaller for many would-be buyers, since more homes become unaffordable.

      "Even with slightly more homeowners putting their home on the market, inventory is still subpar and not meeting demand," Yun said. "As a result, affordability constraints are pricing out some would-be buyers and keeping overall sales activity below last year's pace."

      That said, Yun is hopeful that the worst of the supply crunch is over. In June, the inventory of existing homes for sale was slightly higher year-over-year for the first time since 2015.

      Hot markets see inventory increases

      The inventory increased in a number of metro areas where the scarcity of homes has sent both home prices and rents skyrocketing. Portland, Ore., increased its home listing by 24 percent, while inventory levels increased 19 percent in Seattle and 17 percent in Nashville. In San Jose, Calif., the most expensive housing market in the country, inventory levels increased 15 percent.

      But nearly all housing experts agree that a significant increase in homebuilding will be required to fully alleviate the housing shortage. The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank recently reported that home construction per household is at a 60-year low.

      The National Association of Homebuilders projects only 900,000 new homes will be built in the U.S. this year, even though there is demand for 1.2 million or more. As a result, consumers shopping for a home will still need to be ready to act quickly.

      "Home price growth remains swift and listings are still going under contract at a robust pace in most of the country, which indicates that even with rising inventory in many markets, demand still significantly outpaces what's available for sale," Yun said. "However, if this trend of increasing supply continues in the months ahead, prospective buyers will hopefully begin to see more choices and softer price growth."

      Pending homes sales, a measure of real estate contracts signed but not yet closed, rose in all four regions of the country in June, suggesting that the hou...
      Read lessRead more

      Technology investments haven't raised customer satisfaction with mortgage companies

      A recent study finds industry has room for improvement

      Even though the mortgage industry has made huge technology investments in the last two years, J.D. Power and Associates finds consumer satisfaction with its services hasn't improved.

      In its 2018 Primary Mortgage Servicer Satisfaction Study, the industry average for overall satisfaction was virtually the same as 2017 and 2016.

      "The mortgage industry has made bold investments in new technology, but servicing still has a long way to go," said Craig Martin, Senior Director of the Mortgage Practice at J.D. Power.

      Martin says part of the problem stems from consumers' lack of interest in the new digital technology. The 2018 survey shows only 20 percent of mortgage customers are even using it, 2 percent below 2016's numbers.

      How best to engage customers

      At the same time, Martin says consumers are expecting more, but that companies in the mortgage servicing space aren't keeping up.

      "Servicers not only have to decipher the services that provide the most value to existing and new customers, but they also must solve how best to engage customers," Martin said. "Doing so will translate into higher levels of adoption and usage to deliver cost savings and improved experience. There is a lot of room for improvement."

      The study found that consumers who adopt a loan servicer's digital services are more likely to be satisfied with the company. But fewer than half of mortgage customers even use the servicer's website, compared with 77 percent for bank customers.

      Mortgage loan customers told J.D. Power that their loan servicer did not have account alerts, sent out by text, or they were unaware of them. The study found this service is relatively under-utilized in the mortgage industry, and identified it as an area where servicers could provide enhanced services.

      Quicken Loans on top

      Of all the loan servicers, consumers rated Quicken Loans number one for a fifth straight year, giving it a score of 857. TD Bank was second with a score of 821 and made the largest one-year improvement. Huntington Bank ranked third with a score of 819.

      Satisfaction with mortgage loan servicers was ranked across six categories, including billing and payment, escrow account administration, mortgage fees, and communication.

      Even though the mortgage industry has made huge technology investments in the last two years, J.D. Power and Associates finds consumer satisfaction with it...
      Read lessRead more

      Trek Recalls Bontrager Line Pro bicycle pedals

      The spindle of one or both of the pedals can break

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 10,200 pairs of Bontrager Line Pro flat bicycle pedals sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The spindle of one or both of the pedals can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received five reports of broken spindles in the bicycle pedals. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all Bontrager Line Pro flat bicycle pedals. These aluminum pedals come in orange and black, with “Line Pro” and “Bontrager” printed on the body of the pedal.

      The pedals, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at independent bicycle stores nationwide and online at www.trekbikes.com and other online retailers from April 2016, through June 2018, for about $100.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycle pedals and take them to a Trek retailer for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Trek at (800) 373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.trekbikes.com and click on Safety & Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 10,200 pairs of Bontrager Line Pro flat bicycle pedals sold in the U.S. and Canada.The s...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2015-2018 Volkswagen Golfs and Golf Sportwagens recalled

      The key may be removed from the ignition while the vehicle shift lever is not in "Park"

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 33,168 model year 2015-2018 Volkswagen Golfs and Golf Sportwagens.

      The build of silicate on the shift lever micro switch contacts may enable the key to be removed from the ignition while the vehicle shift lever is not in "Park."

      Removing the key while the shift lever is in a position other than "Park" increases the risk of an unintended vehicle rollaway that may result in personal injury or a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional switch and circuit board, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 8, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 37L5.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 33,168 model year 2015-2018 Volkswagen Golfs and Golf Sportwagens.The build of silicate on the shift lever mic...
      Read lessRead more

      Chrysler recalls Mopar Powertrain Control Modules

      The cruise control system may not disengage

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,930 Mopar Stage 1 Kit Performance Packages Powertrain Control Modules (PCM) Part Numbers P5160023, P5160025, and Demon Crate PCM Part Number 68412287AA.

      A defect in the PCMs could prevent the cruise control system from disengaging.

      If, when using cruise control, there is a short circuit within the vehicle's wiring, the driver may not be able to shut off the cruise control either by depressing the brake pedal or manually turning the system off once it has been engaged, resulting in either the vehicle maintaining its current speed or possibly accelerating.

      If the vehicle maintains its speed or accelerates despite attempts to deactivate the cruise control, there would be an increased risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will either perform a software update or replace the PCM, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 31, 2018. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's numbers for this recall are U82 and U83.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,930 Mopar Stage 1 Kit Performance Packages Powertrain Control Modules (PCM) Part Numbers P5160023, P5160025, and Demon...
      Read lessRead more

      The Weekly Hack: Idaho inmates exploit prison tablets to hack money

      The company says it will shut down almost all services until it gets its money back

      The tablets being provided to inmates in prisons all over the country come with special strings attached. Emails, for instance, can take up to 48 hours to reach their intended destination due to security screenings. The email costs a minimum of 35 cents to send and attaching pictures or exceeding word limits costs extra. Apps and other features designed to appeal to bored inmates all come with their own charges.

      The telecommunications giant JPay in recent years has distributed free tablets to tens of thousands inmates with the anticipation that they will spend enormous amounts of money to access the features to make the tablets worthwhile. In New York alone, JPay has predicted that it will earn $8.8 million within two years by giving free tablets to 52,000 inmates in the state.

      One enterprising group of inmates in Idaho is now facing punishment for hacking a piece of that pie for themselves. JPay and the Idaho Department of Corrections announced Friday that prison inmates found a vulnerability in their tablets and used it to add $225,000 worth of credits to their own JPay accounts. Most inmates loaded $1,000 or less into their accounts, though one took nearly $10,000. In all, a total of 364 inmates allegedly benefited from the scheme, but only briefly.

      After the alleged hack was discovered, JPay announced that it has since recovered $65,000 worth of the credits. Apparently, however, the company needs the inmates’ help to get the rest of its own money back. The firm announced that it is suspending almost all service on the tablets -- everything but email -- until the rest of its money is refunded from the inmates involved in the scheme.

      “This conduct was intentional, not accidental. It required a knowledge of the JPay system and multiple actions by every inmate who exploited the system’s vulnerability to improperly credit their account,” an Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman told the Associated Press.

      Using a fee-based model to bring the comforts of home to prisoners, the jail communications firm JPay is part of an industry that profits enormously off of inmates, or more likely, their families. The firm also handles prison phone calls that used to cost as much as $14 per minute (until the FCC capped prison phone fees under the Obama administration) and commissary accounts in which family members have been charged fees as high as 45 percent of whatever amount they were sending to the inmate.

      JPay also handles many of the debit cards that inmates are given upon release from prison to help pay for getting home. But the money in those cards often becomes inaccessible without explanation or is whittled away by various fees, one lawsuit contends.

      JPay was purchased by Securus several years ago, another jail telecommunications giant that profits from high fees. Securus in recent years has successfully lobbied some counties to replace in-person jail visits with costly video visitation systems. Securus, which reportedly lets cops track phone calls in real time, has also proven to be vulnerable to hackers.

      Even if the money is not returned, JPay will probably come through this theft just fine. Numerous advocacy groups have described the jail communications industry as one that benefits from having a monopoly in whatever facility in which they are operating.

      Jail communications “often do not result in stronger lines of communication at all,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation has said. “Many communications services are offered under unfair terms and with artificially inflated fees that are only possible because the services operate monopolies at each prison or jail.”

      Voting machine vendor admits vulnerability

      In other hacking news, the nation’s largest provider of electronic voting machines recently admitted in a letter to a Senator that it installed remote-access software on some of its machines. Experts agree that such software is known to be widely vulnerable to hacking.

      Voting machines in particular were expected to be completely disconnected from the internet or any remote internet activity.

      What’s more, the firm, called Election Systems and Software, previously denied using such technology. The company reportedly now claims that it stopped using the remote software in 2007.  

      The tablets being provided to inmates in prisons all over the country come with special strings attached. Emails, for instance, can take up to 48 hours to...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon’s facial recognition falsely matched members of Congress with mugshots, ACLU says

      Black members of Congress were disproportionately misidentified as criminals

      The world’s biggest retailer is partnering with law enforcement agencies across the country to sell them facial recognition software. It’s not exactly a secret that Amazon has been peddling its Rekognition software to police officers and others with an interest in identifying strangers on the street, but little is known about how the service works.

      In recent months, the Congressional Black Caucus and 70 civil rights groups have asked Amazon to be more transparent about how it handles its potentially invasive technology.

      Those concerns sparked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to put Rekognition to the test, the group reported on Thursday. For just $12.33, the ACLU says it was able to scan the faces of Congress members against a database of 25,000 mugshots. The results were not encouraging, let alone accurate.

      According to the ACLU, the software mismatched 28 members of Congress with people in the mugshot photos. Men and women and young and old alike were included in the group, though the false IDs happened disproportionately to people of color. Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus were falsely identified as the criminals, the ACLU said.

      “An identification — whether accurate or not — could cost people their freedom or even their lives,” the group writes. “People of color are already disproportionately harmed by police practices, and it’s easy to see how Rekognition could exacerbate that.”

      Some police agencies are already using Rekognition.

      Racial blind spots

      When the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos last month, the group described Artificial Intelligence as something with “boundless economic potential,” but the committee simply asked Amazon to “engage with us in a substantive dialogue” about its concerns.

      In contrast to the claims made by disgruntled workers like James Damore, research has shown that Silicon Valley’s workforce is overwhelmingly white. Most recently, the non-profit organization Reveal published a new analysis indicating that “ten large technology companies in Silicon Valley did not employ a single black woman in 2016,” while three firms “had no black employees at all.”

      It’s not the first time that Silicon Valley’s racial blind spots have been made painfully obvious in Artificial Intelligence failures. In 2015, a software developer revealed that the image recognition feature in Google Photos classified his black friends as “gorillas.”

      Three years later, Google supposedly “fixed” the problem by disabling any algorithm identifying “gorillas” altogether.

      The world’s biggest retailer is partnering with law enforcement agencies across the country to sell them facial recognition software. It’s not exactly a se...
      Read lessRead more

      Travel expected to cost more in 2019

      There are still good deals to be found, particularly with long-haul carriers

      A new research piece predicts travel prices will spike in 2019 thanks to escalating oil costs, a weakening U.S. dollar, pilot shortages, and a mushrooming global economy.

      The Global Travel Forecast -- a study conducted by the Global Business Travel Association and Carlson Family Foundation -- foresees a 2.6 percent rise in the cost of air travel and a 3.7 percent hike in hotel prices, worldwide.

      Who’s getting hit?

      A lot of the uptick in prices will fall squarely on U.S.- and Asia Pacific-based travelers while rates in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America are projected to decrease.

      Trade wars and relationships between countries could also have a say in how much consumers are asked to pay for tickets and rooms.

      “The heightened rhetoric and policy action by the Trump administration threatens to derail the global stance on trade policy,” the report states.

      The “frenemy” relationship between the U.S. and Canada could also come into play. “Tightening interest rates, uncertainty over NAFTA, and growing protectionist squabbles between the two long-term northern allies are casting a shadow over prospects in 2019,” the study predicts.

      The rebirth of the travel agency

      Some consumers may assume that as shopping for travel deals on the internet grew, the role of the traditional travel agent took a backseat. But that decline was short-lived, and the travel agency business is seeing growth once again.

      According to Statista, the travel agency industry in the U.S. is projected to produce $17.3 billion in revenue by 2020, up from the $12.2 billion it produced back in 2010.

      The industry not only grew in terms of revenue; American travel agency profits also increased annually in recent years.

      The role of the travel agent is also expanding. Many travel agents were strapped with systems that used pre-internet messaging standards, which lessened access to the same information and services being offered by the airlines through their online portals.

      The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is now doing its best to level the playing field by trying to standardize the exchange of information between airlines and travel agents. The IATA’s  NDC (New Distribution Capability) is designed to address the industry’s distribution limitations like product differentiation and time-to-market while improving access to content and making the travel shopping experience as transparent as possible.

      Are there still good deals to be had?

      The Global Travel Forecast’s crystal ball sees a long-haul, low-cost market on the horizon, a prophecy airlines are ready to rally around.

      That niche may be getting crowded, but that’s a good thing for the traveller. Jumping into the mix are a spate of long-haul, budget-based airlines like Norwegian Air, Wizz Air, EuroWings, and AirAsiaX that are offering hard-to-beat fares.

      And thanks to the outsourcing of customer support to low-wage countries and selling tickets at a loss in order to try and improve market share, there are lots of smaller online travel agencies (OTAs) on the lookout for deals that larger agencies like Orbitz, Priceline, and Expedia might be hesitant to publish. As an example, the airfare monitoring service Scott’s Cheap Flights recently posted round-trip airfare from Denver to Beijing for $456 and Cincinnati to Rome for $449.

      A new research piece predicts travel prices will spike in 2019 thanks to escalating oil costs, a weakening U.S. dollar, pilot shortages, and a mushrooming...
      Read lessRead more

      23andMe partners with GlaxoSmithKline to develop new disease treatments

      23andMe claims that most people want their DNA to be used for research purposes

      Genetic testing services have enticed millions of people with the promise of either discovering ancestry or predicting future diseases. According to industry leaders like the Google-backed 23andMe, submitting a swab of saliva can “help you understand who you are, where your DNA comes from and your family story.”

      As comforting as that may sound, it doesn’t mention the other purpose of maintaining a massive DNA database: developing new drugs.

      23andMe, for three years, has maintained a Research & Development unit, and Big Pharma is now buying in. GlaxoSmithKline is purchasing a $300 million stake in 23andMe, both companies announced Thursday. The first mission is to investigate a treatment for Parkinson's Disease, based on a common gene mutation linked to the disease.

      23andMe boasts more than five million customers and says that 80 percent have agreed to allow their samples to be used for research. The company has reportedly published over 100 scientific papers linked to its internal data.

      Customer consent and developing new treatments

      Some experts have questioned whether consumers were aware that they opted into the research or who the new partnership will really benefit.  (Customers who did not realize that they gave consent can log into their accounts and “opt-out” of future research.)

      “Expensive new targeted ‘personalized’ treatments may be of benefit to those who can afford them,” medical ethics professor Jon Merz told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Experts have also noted that research participants are typically paid for their time. In this case, however, it’s the subjects who have paid for the privilege of submitting their own DNA.

      In a public statement, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki claimed that “many” customers have been requesting treatments for diseases when they submit their samples.

      “By leveraging the genetic and phenotypic information provided by consenting 23andMe customers and combining it with GSK’s incredible expertise and resources in drug discovery, we believe we can more quickly make treating and curing diseases a reality,” she said.

      The announcement comes just as an immigration lawyer in Canada claimed that immigration authorities there are using DNA testing sites to deport people.

      Genetic testing services have enticed millions of people with the promise of either discovering ancestry or predicting future diseases. According to indust...
      Read lessRead more

      DOJ investigating Sinclair, Tribune over ad sales practices

      The Justice Department is looking into whether TV stations coordinated efforts in a way that raised prices

      The Justice Department is investigating whether local TV station owners including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Company violated antitrust laws in the way their ad sales teams communicated with one another about their performance, according to The Wall Street Journal.

      The coordinated efforts between the ad sales teams might have led to higher rates for TV commercials, the Journal said, citing sources familiar with the matter. The probe was launched following an examination of Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune by the Antitrust Division.

      “It is our policy not to comment on a potential investigation. It is our understanding that this is not specific to Sinclair, but focuses on the larger broadcast industry,” a Sinclair spokesperson told the Journal.

      FCC opposes

      The proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribute would create a broadcast television station with more than 200 stations.

      In their application to the FCC, the two media companies said they would reach 72 percent of American households under the deal. The combined companies would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

      Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed “serious concerns” about the plans, particularly the proposed “sidecar agreements” that would allow Sinclair to retain control of stations without owning them.

      The FCC voted unanimously to send the merger to an administrative law judge for review -- a move that Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly called a “de facto merger death sentence.”

      On Thursday, President Trump voiced his displeasure over the FCC’s opposition to the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

      "So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn't approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," the president said in his tweet. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!"

      The Justice Department is investigating whether local TV station owners including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Company violated antitrust laws in t...
      Read lessRead more

      Court strikes a blow for California retail workers

      Time spent opening and closing stores must be compensated

      The California Supreme Court has ruled that the way in which nearly every retail store operates violates wage and hour laws.

      In most businesses, employees who arrive on the job early to open the store, and those who stay a few minutes after they clock out to close the business are not compensated for those extra minutes on the job.

      The California court, in a unanimous decision, has ruled that employees must be paid for that time. The case was brought by a shift supervisor at a Starbucks, who said he should be paid for the time spent after work closing the business and walking other employees to their cars.

      Plaintiff Douglas Troester filed the original complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of himself and all non-managerial California Starbucks employees who performed store closing tasks from mid-2009 to October 2010.

      Starbucks had the case moved to federal court and asked for a summary judgment, arguing Troester’s uncompensated time was so minimal that the company was not required to compensate him. A federal district court ruled in Starbucks' favor but Troester appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the California Supreme Court to clarify state law before it proceeded with Troester's class action suit.

      Can't be required to perform tasks without pay

      "California law does, in short, make some allowances based on considerations of practicality and reasonableness," the court ruled. "It does not, however, permit an employer to require an employee to regularly work for nontrivial periods of time without providing compensation."

      The court established that over the 17-month period of his employment, Troester’s unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes. At the then-applicable minimum wage of $8 per hour, this unpaid time added up to $102.67.

      The effect of the ruling outside California isn't clear. However, it may cause some national retailers to reexamine their policies for employees who routinely open and close facilities and who are not compensated for that time.

      National chains like Starbucks might be affected most. A Starbucks spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times the company is disappointed with the ruling and "will await further disposition of the case before the 9th Circuit as the appeal process continues.”

      The California Supreme Court has ruled that the way in which nearly every retail store operates violates wage and hour laws.In most businesses, employe...
      Read lessRead more

      Gas prices hold steady over the last week

      Fluctuation in oil supplies has had little effect at the pump

      Consumers found fairly stable gas prices over the last week, even as the oil industry reported a significant drop in U.S. supplies.

      For the week ending on July 20, U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 6.2 million barrels, giving up the gain of nearly the same amount in the previous week. The rise and fall of oil stockpiles barely phased refiners and gasoline wholesalers.

      "The tightened domestic crude supply amid robust global gasoline demand and high global crude demand will likely sustain the more expensive crude oil prices seen this year into the foreseeable future," AAA said in an analysis. "This trend will keep gas prices high throughout the remainder of the summer and possibly into fall."

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of regular gasoline is $2.85 a gallon, the same as last Friday and nearly the same as a month ago. However, it's up about 57 cents a gallon more than this time a year ago.

      Today's average price of premium gasoline is $3.39 a gallon, a penny less than last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.15, also a penny lower than last week.

      "If demand and supply stay consistent, prices have the potential to stabilize, barring any major events – geopolitical or natural disasters,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states have the most expensive regular gas prices on average, according to AAA.

      • Hawaii ($3.78)

      • California ($3.62)

      • Washington ($3.40)

      • Alaska ($3.38)

      • Oregon ($3.28)

      • Nevada ($3.19)

      • Idaho ($3.11)

      • Utah ($3.09)

      • Connecticut ($3.06)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.02)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The following states currently have the cheapest regular gas prices, according to AAA's analysis.

      • South Carolina ($2.54)

      • Alabama ($2.54)

      • Mississippi ($2.55)

      • Arkansas ($2.58)

      • Louisiana ($2.58)

      • Virginia ($2.60)

      • Tennessee ($2.60)

      • Oklahoma ($2.62)

      • Missouri ($2.62)

      • Texas ($2.63)

      Consumers found fairly stable gas prices over the last week, even as the oil industry reported a significant drop in U.S. supplies.For the week ending...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i vehicles recalled

      The rear turn signals may malfunction

      BMW of North America is recalling five model year 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i vehicles.

      The rear turn signals on the outboard side panel will illuminate red, while the inboard turn signals simultaneously illuminate amber.

      Turn signals that flash multiple colors may confuse other drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear turn signal lights, and replace if necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 13, 2018.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling five model year 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i vehicles.The rear turn signals on the outboard side panel will illu...
      Read lessRead more

      Pinnacle Foods recalls Hungry Man chicken wings

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Pinnacle Foods of Fayetteville, Ark., is recalling Hungry Man Chipotle BBQSauced Boneless Chicken Wings.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella from whey powder that has been recalled by the producer of the ingredient.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the recalled product.

      The following product is being recalled:

      • 15.25-oz. individual frozen microwavable dinners with “HUNGRY MAN CHIPOTLE BBQ SAUCED BONELESS CHICKEN WYNGZ” printed on the label and bearing a best buy date of 9/6/19.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. P138” or “P-138” on the side of the carton, was shipped to retail locations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions may contact Pinnacle Foods consumer care at 1-888-257-1057.

      Pinnacle Foods of Fayetteville, Ark., is recalling Hungry Man Chipotle BBQSauced Boneless Chicken Wings.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella...
      Read lessRead more