Is common sense returning to Washington, DC? – National Consumers League

by Reid Maki, NCL’s Director, Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

When Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and President Obama signed it into law January 29, a nonsensical decision of the Supreme Court was effectively overturned. The court had ruled previously that a worker who wanted to sue his or her employer for illegally discriminating against them by paying them less wages based on their sex or race must do so in the first six months after the initial discrimination occurred.

In cases like that of Ledbetter, who worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber for 19 years, workers do not always know when they are being treated unfairly. Ledbetter only found out that she made less than all the other male supervisors because someone (in the months before her retirement) left her note telling her about the unequal pay. It wasn’t a trifling amount either: the lowest paid male supervisor made $550 more a month than she did. Over a nearly 20 year period, that kind of pay disparity adds up.

Ledbetter filed a complaint that year and was told by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she had grounds to sue. She won in a U.S. district court in 2003, but an appeal went to a higher court that ruled she had filed her cases years too late.

In a decision announced in early 2007, the Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, agreed that workers who suffer from an employer’s illegal action have only six months from the time the discrimination began to initiate legal recourse—whether or not they knew about the illegal action! As writer Richard Thompson Ford noted in Slate, “Ledbetter basically grandfathers in longtime pay discrimination.”

Thankfully, Congress set about reversing the decision—as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had called for in her dissenting opinion. The National Consumers League endorsed these efforts in a letter to Congress last August.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, allowing workers to bring a lawsuit within six months of any paycheck—not just the first—that discriminates against them was the first law enacted under the Obama presidency.

President Obama signaled the importance of balancing corporate power and employee rights by inviting Ledbetter to be one of 16 guests to accompany him on his train ride into Washington before he took office. He also danced with her on the night of his inauguration!

“Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of. In fact, I will never see a cent from my case,” said Ledbetter at the signing. “But with the president’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know that my daughter and granddaughters … will have a better deal. That’s what makes this fight worth fighting.”

SCHIP: ‘A Great First Step’ – National Consumers League

by Mimi Johnson, NCL Health Policy Associate

President Obama recently signed an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) into law, making what he calls ‘a down payment on [his] promise to cover every American.’ This reauthorization means that 11 million low-income children will now have health insurance, covering four million more children than before. SCHIP works to cover children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to purchase private insurance.

This issue is very important to the National Consumers League. For over 100 years we have worked to improve the lives of children, from improving child labor laws to ensuring medication safety. The League strongly believes that all citizens have a right to adequate and affordable health care.

While SCHIP has been around since 1997, the reauthorization brings some exciting changes. For the first time, coverage will extend to children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants. Another revision includes a 62-cent increase in the cigarette tax, which will hopefully discourage kids from starting to smoke in addition to encouraging adults to quit. Still other preventive measures in the new SCHIP include programs to promote healthy lifestyles and help reduce childhood obesity.

We applaud Congress and the Obama Administration for acting swiftly to protect America’s children. Still, nearly nine million children remain uninsured in this country, a number that is most certainly rising. Almost two-thirds of Americans are insured through their employer. And with the recent announcement that nearly 600,000 jobs were lost in January alone, the number of uninsured is rising at an alarming rate.

Reauthorizing and expanding SCHIP is a great first step towards an improved health system, but we need to work quickly towards broader reform that ensures we can all receive the quality care we need.

Props to Congress for Move to Delay DTV Transition Date – National Consumers League

The National Consumers League has issued kudos to the U.S. House of Representatives for voting to delay the official date of the federal transition from analog to digital television.

You’ve probably heard of the impending transition, which is set for Feb. 17. Consumer advocates are concerned, however, that there are still many consumers out there – an estimated 6.5 million! – who are unprepared for the switch. Those rabbit-ear-relying TV watchers would be in for a rude awakening when the analog signals stop airing. If they haven’t yet subscribed to cable or satellite, swapped their TV for one with a digital signal, or purchased a converter box, they may be baffled when their sets go blank later this month. Unless, that is, the delay is made official, and advocates, government, and others are given more time to reach those millions of consumers with the info they need to make the switch.

Sally Greenberg, NCL‘s Executive Director, had this to say about the move by the House:

“The decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a four-month delay in the shutdown of analog TV signals is a victory for the estimated 6.5 million U.S. households that remain unprepared for the DTV transition. Consumers in these unprepared households are disproportionately elderly, low-income, rural, and minority. The delay will allow time for governmental, private, and non-profit educational efforts to have greater effect and for more converter box coupons to be sent to consumers currently on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s waiting list. The delay will also help avoid the nightmare scenario of consumers, particularly older ones, climbing their roofs in February to adjust TV antennas due to the transition. We urge President Obama to sign the bill to law as soon as possible.”

Statement of support from the National Consumers League on House passage of the DTV Delay Act – National Consumers League

February 4, 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) today has issued the following statement regarding the passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of S. 352, “The DTV Delay Act.” This statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League:

“The decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a four-month delay in the shutdown of analog TV signals is a victory for the estimated 6.5 million U.S. households that remain unprepared for the DTV transition. Consumers in these unprepared households are disproportionately elderly, low-income, rural, and minority. The delay will allow time for governmental, private, and non-profit educational efforts to have greater effect and for more converter box coupons to be sent to consumers currently on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s waiting list. The delay will also help avoid the nightmare scenario of consumers, particularly older ones, climbing their roofs in February to adjust TV antennas due to the transition. We urge President Obama to sign the bill to law as soon as possible.”

While this legislation moves the official transition deadline to June 12, it does not prohibit broadcasters from turning off their analog signals before that date. NCL calls on broadcasters to honor the new deadline extension and maintain their analog signals until then to allow more consumers to prepare for the transition.


About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit

Mahalo, Hawai’i LifeSmarts! – National Consumers League

Our LifeSmarts program in Hawai’i is making headlines, as their state competition is just a few days away. As recently reported in the Honolulu Advertiser, young savvy consumers will battle it out this weekend for a spot at nationals. The defending state champs from Kea’au High School will defend their title Saturday at the state Capitol auditorium.

In Hawai’i, LifeSmarts is coordinated by the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and enjoys local support from partners including the Better Business Bureau Foundation, the Hawai’i Credit Union League, and the state Department of Education.

Good luck, guys! We’ll see the winners in St. Louis!

Shared history: NCL and working families – National Consumers League

Did you know NCL began as an organization of women devoted to workers’ rights?

NCL is America’s pioneer consumer organization, founded in 1899 on the principle of consumer responsibility for the welfare of workers. NCL began as an organization of women devoted to workers’ rights.

NCL drafted the nation’s first minimum wage law in 1912 to protect women and children, the most severely exploited workers. NCL was among the first to champion the cause of child labor, campaigning for laws to protect against children working for long hours and pauper’s wages. NCL fought for the rights of African American workers in the early 20th century, including Black women, who were the lowest paid workers of all.

NCL’s early leaders, including Eleanor Roosevelt and consumer and labor rights advocate Esther Peterson, fought for national health insurance and a 40-hour work week.

The fight continues

Today, NCL is the only organization whose mission links consumer issues and fair labor standards. NCL supports the Employee Free Choice Act, making a connection between consumer rights and labor rights on Capitol Hill. NCL joins with the Labor Movement in supporting comprehensive healthcare reform. NCL is a world leader in the fight against child labor. It co-chairs, convenes, and staffs the domestic Child Labor Coalition and serves on the board of the International Cocoa Initiative.

In the 1990s, NCL helped establish the Global March Against Child Labor, the first global civil movement advocating for free, quality, basic education for all children and a world free from child labor. The League played a key role in the 1999 founding of the Fair Labor Association, addressing conditions for workers in the apparel industry. Comprising more than 200 colleges and universities, businesses, and NGOs, the FLA has helped to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers in developing countries.


Contaminated peanut butter? Is nothing sacred? – National Consumers League

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The all American sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, defiled by the potentially deadly Salmonella pathogen?

More than 500 people in 43 states have been sickened, and eight have died, after eating crackers and other products made with peanut butter from  a plant owned by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). More than 100 children under the age of 5 are among those who have been sickened.

The good news for consumers is that none of PCA’s products are sold directly to consumers. 
The bad news is that apparently PCA distributed potentially contaminated products to more than 100 companies for use as an ingredient in hundreds of different products, such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream.
 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiated an inspection of PCA’s Blakely plant on January 9 shortly after learning that the firm might be linked to the ongoing Salmonella outbreak that was making people sick in states across the country.  But what should outrage consumers is that isn’t the first time the PCA has been implicated  – far from it. According to the New York Times, over the last two years  there were 12 instances in which the company’s own tests of its product found contamination by salmonella. In each case, the report states, “after the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.”

It is illegal for a company to continue testing a product until it gets a clean test, said Michael Taylor, a food safety expert at George Washington University.

The FDA’s report describes a plant that was poorly constructed, with gaps and holes in the walls and flaking rust that could get into food products. “There were open gaps observed” near air-conditioner intakes that were as large as a half-inch by two and one-half feet long, the report said.  Previous inspections of the plant by the Georgia State Agriculture Department found dirty surfaces, grease residue and dirt buildup throughout the plant. They also found rust residue that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to enter, and numerous other problems.

Ingesting foods containing the Salmonella virus can be deadly in the very young, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

The plant sells its peanut paste to some of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, including Kellogg and McKee Foods. As a result of the contamination, more than 100 products have been recalled, mostly cookies and crackers.

In a press conference Tuesday, Michael Rogers, director of the division of field investigations at the FDA, said that the company’s tests showing salmonella contamination should have led the company to take actions to eliminate the contamination. “It’s significant, because at the point at which salmonella was identified, it shouldn’t be there, based on the manufacturing process that’s designed to mitigate salmonella, actually eliminate it,” Mr. Rogers said.

But the firm took no steps to clean its plant after the test results alerted the company to the contamination, inspection team found problems with the plant’s routine cleaning procedures as well.

The plant also stored pallets of peanut butter next to supplies of peanuts, the inspection report says. Finished products should be stored far from raw materials to reduce the chances of re-contamination of the finished goods, according to federal rules.

What is wrong with this picture? This Georgia plant is a clearly a serial violator– the feds found numerous violations but so did the state of Georgia. Why wasn’t the plant closed down after the Georgia State Inspection? Restaurants that are dirty and violate municipal rules are routinely closed down until they fix safety violations. What is the point of federal and state safety procedures if a company is permitted to flout them and send contaminated products into the marketplace? and shouldn’t we have tough criminal penalties for a company that knowingly ships contaminated products?

Certainly, Congress will be demanding answers, but consumers should demand them as well. Our food safety regime is broken. President Obama needs to appoint a tough new FDA Commissioner immediately. But the job of the FDA is overwhelming; FDA regulates food, drugs, and medical devices. We agree with our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest – our food safety system needs to be overhauled.

We need legislation to bring the food safety program at the FDA and Department of Agriculture and all the other federal agencies that regulate food into the 21st century. Representative Rosa DeLauro has introduced legislation to create a new Food Safety Administration at Health and Human Services.  That approach would bring the program elements together and put an expert in charge. We ask Congress and the Obama Administration to pass this legislation quickly, and begin to overhaul our food safety regime and make it work for consumers.

NCL’s tips for staying on top of trial offers – National Consumers League

Have you ever wanted to try a service or a product on a trial basis? Some companies allow interested customers the chance to try it out before they join or purchase. This is called a trial offer.

How does a trial offer work?

Over a specified period of time, for no charge or a minimal charge, you can see for yourself how the service or product works and whether it is useful to you. It is important to determine whether the product or service fits your lifestyle.Perhaps you have seen trial offers advertised on television or in an Internet advertisement. Or, maybe you have been contacted by telephone or received mail or email at your home. The service or product may sound good, but before you sign up for a trial offer, consider the following questions — your answers will help you make the decision that is right for you.

Weighing a trial offer: Is this the deal for me?

To help you decide whether to sign up with the product or service, make sure you review and understand the rules before you join.

  • Does the cost of the product or service fit your budget? Even though a trial offer allows you the opportunity to try it out, is the product or service something that you really need or want?
  • How likely it is that you will use the product or service? For example, you may be interested in trying a trial membership at a gym. In order to get regular use of the facility, before you join, make sure that the gym is open and available for you to use at the times you plan to use it.
  • Do any limitations or restrictions on the membership make it less useful or attractive? For example, membership in a travel service that has blackout periods during school holidays may not be good for a teacher who would normally travel during school vacations.
  • How do you obtain the benefits? Check to see if you need to present a coupon or enter a special code to make purchases.
  • If you will receive products or services automatically, how frequently they will be provided, and what you have to do if you do not want them and by when?
  • Is there is a minimum purchase requirement? Are you interested in receiving the service or products as often as stated? Are there any other requirements or obligations you must meet that creates a hardship or hassle? What happens if you do not meet those obligations?
  • When, how often, and how much you will be charged? You also need to know whether the charge will be placed on your credit or debit card or deducted from your checking or other account.
  • What is the cancellation policy? How long is the membership? If you do not want to continue, is there an early cancellation penalty for ending your membership? How must you go about canceling your membership?
  • What are the refund and return policies? Know how you can receive a refund if you are not satisfied with the service or product, how you would make that request, whether there is any time limit for doing so, and who is responsible for shipping costs.

Important! Save information about the terms and conditions of your membership someplace where you can easily find it if you need it.

The three “DOs” of trial offers

1. DO Look for Details.
Get all the facts before you agree to a trial offer. Know what will happen when the trial period ends.

2. DO Keep Track.
Note on your calendar the date the trial period ends and decide whether you want to continue before that date. If you cancel, keep a note with the date and the name of the representative you dealt with.

3. DO Check for Charges.
Review your credit card or bank statements as soon as you receive them or check your accounts online. If you are charged or debited when you should not have been, or for the wrong amount, contact your bank immediately. More tips about free trial offers are on the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at .

The devil is in the details!

Carefully read any information sent to you by the company making the offer. Pay attention to details, such as:
• The date the trial offer begins and ends.
• Limitations on your use of the service or product during the trial period.
• How to obtain the benefits of the trial offer. For example: Do you need to present a coupon or enter a special code for online purchases?
• How frequently you will receive the service or product.
• If you are trying out a product, what the return policy is and who pays for the shipping on returned items.

Consumer tip: Beware of the “negative option”

In some cases you will be charged at the end of the trial period unless you take the necessary steps to cancel the product or service before the end of the trial. In other words, your failure to take action to cancel is interpreted as your acceptance, and you will continue to receive and be periodically charged for the product or service until you take the necessary steps to cancel. This is sometimes referred to as a “negative option.”

A type of negative option plan is a “continuity plan” in which you receive goods and services automatically on a regular schedule. For example, a music club may send you several CDs every month. You do not have to order the product or service each time — it is provided unless you notify the company before the next shipment or service date that you do not want it. You may be able to keep the products or services you received during the trial offer for free, but if you continue with the plan after the trial period ends, you may be obliged to accept and pay for a minimum number of products or services. More information about your rights concerning negative option plans is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site .

NCL’s advice for assessing a company’s reputation and trustworthiness

A reputable company should:
• Make it easy to contact the company by giving you its name, address, and telephone number.
• Tell you all about its product or service, including a description of exactly what is being offered, how much it costs, the membership benefits and restrictions, the payment options, and the cancellation policy.
• Provide complete information on the terms and limitations of the trial offer, including the length of the trial offer, what happens when it ends, and what action you need to take if you do not want to continue after the trial period is over. For example: You could be billed for the product or service unless you notify the company that you want to cancel before the trial period ends.
• Disclose its privacy policy that explains what personal and financial information is collected about you, how the information may be used, and with whom it may be shared.

Consumer Tip: Contact your local consumer protection agency or better business bureau
If you want to check out a company before you agree to a free trial offer, or if you have a complaint about an offer, contact your local Better Business Bureau or state/local consumer protection agency. You will find them in your telephone book or search for them online.

Attention shoppers! What happens when the trial offer ends?

It is up to you to read the trial offer very carefully. Make sure you understand:

  • The date the trial offer ends. Mark your calendar and decide before that date whether you wish to continue receiving the service or product.
  • Your responsibilities under the free trial agreement. Typically, if you do not want to continue, you must contact the company and cancel the product or service before the trial period ends or else you will be automatically billed for future use or membership. In some cases, you may be billed retroactively for products or services you used, so make sure you understand the terms of the offer before you agree to the trial.

It is a good rule of thumb that if you are not interested in continuing with the service or product, contact the company before the end of the trial period, and tell them that you wish to cancel immediately to avoid the possibility of being charged for something you do not want.

Consumer Tip: Watch out for suprise charges when trial offer ends
Sometimes people let a trial offer lapse without canceling the product or service because they did not provide their billing information to the seller. However, if the consumer bought other goods or services from the company in the past, the company may already have their account information at the time the free trial is offered. Consumers may be surprised with a charge once the trial offer ends and then have to take extra steps to resolve the problem.

Beware fraudulent work-at-home offers – National Consumers League

The advertisement says you can make lots of money working from the comfort of your home. But if this were true, wouldn’t we all be doing it? There are legitimate home-based businesses out there, but also numerous scams – enough to make you think twice about “working from home” offers.Know who you’re dealing with. The company may not be offering to employ you directly, only to sell you training and materials and to find customers for your work.

  • Don’t believe that you can make big profits easily. Operating a home-based business is just like any other business – it requires hard work, skill, good products or services, and time to make a profit.
  • Get all the details before you pay. A legitimate company will be happy to give you information about exactly what you will be doing and for whom.
  • Find out if there is really a market for your work. Claims that there are customers for work such as medical billing and craft making may not be true. If the company says it has customers waiting, ask who they are and contact them to confirm. You can also ask likely customers in your area (such as doctors for medical billing services) if they actually employ people to do that work from home.
  • Get references for other people who are doing the work. Ask them if the company kept its promises.
  • Be aware of legal requirements. To do some types of work, such as medical billing, you may need a license or certificate. Check with your state attorney general’s office. Ask your local zoning board if there are any restrictions on operating a business from your home. Some types of work cannot be done at home under federal law. Look for the nearest U.S. Department of Labor in the government listings of your phone book.
  • Know the refund policy. If you have to buy equipment or supplies, ask whether and under what circumstances you can return them for a refund.
  • Beware of the old “envelope stuffing” scheme. In this classic scam, instead of getting materials to send out on behalf of a company, you get instructions to place an ad like the one you saw, asking people to send you money for information about working at home. This is an illegal pyramid scheme because there is no real product or service being offered. You won’t get rich, and you could be prosecuted for fraud.
  • Be wary of offers to send you an “advance” on your “pay.” Some con artists use this ploy to build trust and get money from your bank. They send you a check for part of your first month’s “pay.” You deposit it, and the bank tells you the check has cleared because the normal time has passed to be notified that checks have bounced. Then the crook contacts you to say that you were mistakenly paid the wrong amount or that you need to return a portion of the payment for some other reason. After you send the money back, the check that you deposited finally bounces because it turned out to be an elaborate fake. Now the crooks have your payment, and you’re left owing your bank the amount that you withdrew.
  • Do your own research about work-at-home opportunities. The “Work-At-Home Sourcebook” and other resources that may be available in your local library provide good advice and lists of legitimate companies that hire people to work for them at home. You may discover that these companies hire only local people and that there is nothing available in your area.