Health reform: Good for consumers, good for America – National Consumers League

July 31, 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323,

WASHINGTON, DC –- The lack of comprehensive health care coverage is America’s albatross –it makes our businesses less competitive and our workers less healthy. We need to put partisan concerns aside and work NOW to ensure that the system is reformed. The cost of doing nothing is unthinkable.

American families are paying about $15,000 a year for health care, twice as much as we did twenty years ago, and we pay $6,500 more for health care than any other industrialized country in the world. Yet despite these high costs we have poorer health outcomes.

We need to address why we are overpaying for care that is not making us healthier. Health reform, as proposed in several current bills in Congress, will move us towards greater accountabilityefficiencyaccessibility, transparency, and quality. It is essential that everyone have access to affordable health care or the system will remain broken.

For consumers, health reform will translate into choice – with a greater number of options available, including keeping and supplementing your own insurance, at more affordable and competitive prices. Reform will also make it easier to compare and understand the true costs and benefits of plans. As consumers and employees, we can make choices what will help push for health insurance and benefits that are competitive, innovative, and cost-contained.

With unemployment nearing 10 percent, many Americans have lost their employer-based coverage. Further, of the nearly 50 million uninsured, close to 80 percent are working Americans. It is imperative that we not leave our most vulnerable citizens out in the cold, which is why health reform will only be effective if everyone is covered.

Experts project that families will pay $10,000 more annually on medical costs by 2016 if we DON’T fix the system Health care coverage for all Americans is a moral imperative that must not be allowed to fall victim to partisan politics.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Kiln Workers in Pakistan – National Consumers League

Earlier this month, the Washington Post ran a piece on the terrible working conditions of kiln workers in Pakistan. People spend their entire lives under grueling labor and breathing toxic fumes.  Entire families are indebted to the kiln owners, and the pay is so low that they have little opportunity of ever repaying their debts.  If they move to work at another kiln, their debt follows them. If they try to escape their life of virtual serfdom, they are chased down.The article interviewed a kiln worked named Abdul Wakil, who explained, “The problem is that you can never earn enough to leave. If your wife needs an operation or the rainy seasons lasts too long, you have to borrow from the kiln owners… the debt stays with you, sometimes for your whole life.”

Even children are pulled into this system of bondage through debt.  As young as six, kids are taken out of school to help work on the kiln. Wakil’s son, age 7, is already rolling up mud balls for his father. The article describes the life of Zarfran Khan, “a bright-eyed, 8-year-old quarry boy.”  “I liked school,” he says, “but I don’t go there anymore.”

Born into a life of perpetual debt, these kids never have the option of an education or of trainings in other skills. Knowing only the life of a kiln worker, they end up starting their own families in the same dangerous places, and the cycle repeats itself.

The National Consumers League established the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) in 1989 to end the exploitation of children in the workplace.  It is a top priority for us to spread awareness of the child exploitation in workplaces around the world. NCL and the American Federation of Teachers currently co-chair the CLC.

Progress is being made on child labor rights in the region, as earlier this week the Dehli High Court in India asked the government to start action to eliminate child labor from the state of Delhi in six months. This is an important step to end child labor exploitation, and we think that this could end up being a model for other state and national governments in the region. We hope that the Pakistani government can place a higher priority on ending child labor exploitation, so that kids like Zarfran will be able to get an education and escape their lives of perpetual poverty.

Follow LifeSmarts on Facebook and Twitter – National Consumers League

by Brandi Williams, LifeSmarts Program Assistant

With the official end to the 2009 program year in June, we LifeSmarts program staff are using this summer to gear up for an exciting new year, which will officially kick off in September. From social networking, to new program content and coaching materials, to improved navigability on, the 2010 program year is looking to be one of the best years ever.

LifeSmarts is now on Facebook and Twitter, reaching teens where they are!

Our Facebook fan page serves as a forum for LifeSmarts participants to interact and network with each other and the LifeSmarts staff in a safe and easily accessible location and receive program updates and news alerts. We post daily questions on our Twitter page, and direct followers to post their answers to @LifeSmarts_org using hashtag #lsqotd (LifeSmarts Question of the Day).

The Twitter daily questions come directly from LifeSmarts educational content in the areas of consumer rights and responsibilities, personal finance, technology, health and safety, and the environment. See what teens are learning at by following us on Twitter, and challenge yourself to correctly answer the daily question!

Help us grow the LifeSmarts community! We encourage not only students, but all LifeSmarts supporters and enthusiasts, to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

And watch for future opportunities to win prizes!

Construction Dangerous Work for Teens – National Consumers League

by Lauren Perez, NCL Communications Intern

We recently looked at the dangers in agricultural work for youth workers, one of NCL’s Five Worst Teen Jobs of 2009. This time we will look at the dangers in constructions and working from heights. The construction industry contains some of the most dangerous jobs; one out of every five work place fatalities is in the construction industry.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that 14 percent of youth occupational fatalities occur in the construction industry, and the Fair Labor Standards Act has limited the type of jobs youth may perform in the construction industry. This act requires that youth under the age of 16 may only perform office or sales work and are also limited in the number of hours and times of day they may work. Teens aged 16 and 17 may work in the construction industry and on construction sites, but they are restricted from performing tasks that are too hazardous, like driving a motor vehicle, operating power-driven machines, working on roofing operations and demolition.

Falls are one of the most common accidents in the construction industry. In 2005, 32 percent of work-related deaths were from falls. Labor laws prevent minors aged 16 to 17 from working on roofs, but they may still work at heights such as ladders, scaffolding and towers. In 2007, the last year for which there is a report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 16 youth workers aged 16 to 19 suffered fatalities from falling. That year, a 19-year-old worker died when he fell 10 feet. The employee was helping on a home remodel and was standing and working on a beam, which broke underneath him. The Department of Labor states that any time a worker is at a height of four feet or more, the worker is at risk and needs to be protected. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides information on construction standards and regulations that teen workers should be aware of.

Next time, we will take a look at another of the Five Worst Teen Jobs: driving and operating forklifts, tractors, and all-terrain vehicles.

Minimum Wage Increase Welcome but Not Enough – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

We would be remiss at the National Consumers League if we let go unremarked that the Federal minimum wage is set to rise to $7.25 an hour on July 24, just a day away. The federal minimum wage law was first enacted in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and was adopted as part of a sustained campaign by FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, who was NCL’s New York director in the early part of the 20th century.

The women who established the NCL in the early years of the 20th century wrote the first state minimum wage laws and continued to fight for a federal minimum wage because employers could avoid higher wages by taking their businesses across state lines. While Florence Kelley, NCL’s first General Secretary, would have been proud that her legacy lives on in these federal minimum wage increases, she also likely would have been distressed at how little minimum wage workers still earn on an annual basis.

Even so, each time the minimum wage rises, the business community predicts much doom and gloom for the economy. For example, during the in 2007 debate in Congress over raising the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years, the National Restaurant Association claimed that the minimum wage increase would lead to a reduction of 146,000 jobs.

The labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute estimates that 4 percent of the work force, or 5.6 million workers, earn less than $7.25 an hour. Minimum wage workers who get the additional boost to $7.25 an hour will earn just above $15,000 yearly before taxes for a 52-week work year.

The fact is, before 2007 when minimum wages were finally increased after a decade, minimum wage levels were at their lowest real value in over 50 years. This was the longest stretch of federal inaction since the minimum wage was first instated in 1938. Finally, it was increased to $6.55 per hour in July 24, 2008; and now $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.

For those workers who toil for our economy’s the lowest wages, this increase will bring some welcome additional funds to their families. However, the annual salary for minimum wage workers in America is far from a living wage, something Florence Kelley and the founders of the National Consumers League fought to achieve. We agree with Congressman George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee who was quoted in the Associated Press as observing:

“In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is an outrage that anyone who works full time would still wind up in poverty. Everyone who puts in an honest day’s work should receive a fair day’s pay.”

Testimonial advertising crossing the line into deception, says NCL – National Consumers League

July 22, 2009

Stricter rules on consumer and expert endorsements, blogola, and fake news needed, says consumer group

Contact: 202-835-3323,

WASHINGTON, DC –- Appearing today before a Senate subcommittee, the National Consumers League (NCL) called for stricter rules regarding the use of consumer and expert testimonials in advertising. The consumer group also urged lawmakers and regulators to strongly consider establishing guidelines regarding disclosure by bloggers and others of compensation received in return for product and service reviews online. The League also described as “extremely troubling,” the proliferation of advertising masquerading as real news.

“Now more than ever, consumers need to be assured that products and services advertised to them deliver on what they promise,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We believe that the overuse of consumer testimonials and expert endorsements has crossed the line from aggressive marketing to outright deception.”

The hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee was prompted by revisions being undertaken at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the agency’s guidelines regarding the use of consumer testimonials and expert endorsements in advertisements. Changes under consideration include requiring advertisers to prominently disclose average results when atypical results are shown, such as in diet pill commercials. Other changes would require that bloggers and other online reviewers disclose when they receive payment or gifts from advertisers in return for a review. NCL also urged regulators and lawmakers to investigate whether the undisclosed use of video news releases by news organizations should fall under the FTC’s testimonial advertising guidelines.

“We find the rampant lack of disclosure by broadcasters that they are being paid to air VNRs extremely troubling,” said Greenberg. “Citizens of a democratic society should have confidence that the media is not passing off advertisements as hard news.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Sotomayor’s Consumer Decisions – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

While the Senate hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee were going on last week, the National Consumers League took a look at President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee — Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s — and her record on consumer issues. NCL reviewed a series of cases that had been identified by the nonprofit group, Alliance for Justice, as related to consumer matters.

What we found gave us comfort. Judge Sotomayor’s handful of consumer-related decisions demonstrate a sympathy for the average consumer against those who would scam them or hide provisions in the fine print. Sotomayor upheld the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to levy a hefty fine on one company and restitution for its victims.  She also seems reluctant to throw plaintiffs out of court on a technicality, protecting protects their right to seek redress.

Read our analysis, Judge_Sotomayor’s_Record_on_Consumer_Issues, of decisions on cases that we thought would be of interest to consumers and other readers of this blog.

Happy Blueberry Month! – National Consumers League

By Mimi Johnson, NCL Health Policy Associate

Blueberries are my all-time favorite food.  Whether frozen, fresh, or preserved, they are truly nature’s treat, and July has been designated as the month for celebrating these wonderfully nutritious berries.  In honor of the blueberry, I recently traveled to a local farm and picked a few buckets’ worth.

While you don’t have to spend your Saturday laboring away for berries, your local farmers’ markets and grocery stores will likely have the fresh stuff in stock – the peak season runs mid-May through August.  If you can’t get your hands on fresh ones, frozen berries pack the same punch.

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants – the richest of any fruit – and help block bacteria from sticking around in the body.  Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamins C, E, and K, as well as manganese and fiber.  In addition to promoting brain health, blueberries are also believed to help reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

Including blueberries in a diet rich in vegetables and fruit can help lower your risk for chronic conditions and help maintain a healthy weight.  The summer months make it easy to fill your plate with colorful, nutrient-rich foods.  To see if your meals need some help, visit the CDC’s interactive site where you can learn how to better reap the benefits of fruit and veggies.

If you’re interested in picking up some fresh berries or other healthy produce, head to your local farmers’ market.  Many markets offer cooking demonstrations and farmers are always ready to share their tried and true recipes.

Recession-Fueled Fraud Increases the Need for a Federal Role in Fraud-Fighting – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, Vice President for Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Consumer misery – in the form of rampant unemployment, high foreclosure rates, and dwindling retirement savings – is blood in the water for scammers. These con artists know that consumers in desperate financial straits are more vulnerable to the kinds of frauds these criminals routinely peddle. Unfortunately, the worst economy in a generation has caused the traditional “boots on the ground” of consumer protection – state and local consumer agencies – to see their already-slim budgets slashed to the bone or eliminated altogether. Given these disturbing trends, consumers will increasingly depend on federal authorities to protect them from the growing threat of fraud.

This was the message that NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg delivered to a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday in testimony on the impact of the economic meltdown on consumer fraud. Greenberg was asked to testify by the committee thanks in part to the work that NCL’s Fraud Center does every day to educate consumers about consumer fraud and alert authorities when victims come to NCL looking for help.

“Absent increased action at the federal level to bring scam artists to justice and educate consumers about the threat of fraud, consumers will be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place,” noted Greenberg in her testimony.

To address these issues, Greenberg offered several recommendations, including beefing up staffing levels and enforcement budgets at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), making the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database open and searchable by the public, and creating a consumer education grant program to help state, local, and non-profit organizations launch innovative anti-fraud projects.

In support of Greenberg’s testimony, NCL released its semi-annual rankings of the top ten frauds reported to the Fraud Center.  Fake check scams again topped the scam category rankings, increasing by more than 4% of the total complaints submitted. Complaints involving prizes, sweepstakes, or free gifts also increased, particularly among fraud perpetrated by telemarketers. In response to the continued growth of fake check-related complaints, NCL in 2009 has begun to look deeper into the scams behind the fake checks. Our six-month review indicated scams involving fake mystery-shopping jobs, phony sweepstakes winnings, and overpayment for goods made up more than 65% of the total fake check scam complaints received. NCL believes that consumers’ vulnerability all three scam types is closely linked to difficult financial circumstances, which are likely exacerbated by the worsening economic climate.

Click here to see video of the Senate hearings on fraud linked to the recession, including NCL’s remarks.

NCL commends Minnesota attorney general for prosecution of arbitration firm – National Consumers League

July 16, 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323,

WASHINGTON, DC –- The National Consumers League (NCL) commends Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson for her efforts to prosecute the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), the nation’s largest arbitration company, for consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising.

Consumer groups have argued for years that the while the NAF claims to be a neutral arbitrator of debt collection complaints against consumers and on other consumer complaints, behind the scenes the company aggressively markets itself to credit card companies, mortgage lenders, debt buyers, and cell phone companies and even helps them put mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer contracts.

Businesses know that they will be treated more favorable under arbitration, and so have been eager to participate in it.

But the suit brought by the Attorney General brings up even more serious allegations of bias and favoritism toward businesses. Swanson claims the NAF helps companies fill out claims against consumers, while providing consumers no such assistance. The lawsuit also reveals the intricate corporate ties between NAF and debt collection companies who do business with NAF’s clients. The NAF hides these connections, as they illustrate a clear conflict of interest.

Mandatory arbitration provides legal cover for businesses at the expense of consumers’ right to take action in court when they are harmed. The National Consumers League supports a full ban on mandatory arbitration and applauds the Minnesota Attorney General for her action on the matter.