Toyota Closing Plant at Workers’ Expense – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

While finishing up a trip out to California’s Bay Area this week, I couldn’t help but lament the local news reports there that Toyota is closing its only unionized plant in the United States. The plant was a joint venture between Toyota and GM that launched in 1984 as an experiment for Toyota in building cars in the US and for GM to learn more efficient techniques from Japan. 4,700 workers will lose their jobs at the plant, which is based in Fremont, CA. California state officials say the ripple effect will cost 40,000 jobs in the state, all told.

Toyota’s decision strikes me as utterly unfair and unjustified on several levels. First, the carmaker has made out royally in the last few months, selling more cars than any other manufacturer through the U.S. taxpayer-subsidized “cash for clunkers” program. The hottest item was the Corolla, ironically built at this Fremont plant, and Toyota even had to bring more workers in to keep up with demand generated by this program. So here we have American auto workers – who happen to be unionized– working overtime to crank out cars so this Japanese car maker can profit from a United States government subsidy, and Toyota goes and closes the plant once the “cash for clunkers” program is over.

Second, Toyota is closing its only unionized plant, so this is an effort to cut costs at the workers’ expense. In fact, the company operates plants in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, and West Virginia and they aren’t closing those. Toyota has successfully resisted the UAW’s efforts to unionize in these other states.

Toyota’s spokesman for North America said that they “deeply regret having to take this action” but that “over the mid-to-long term, it would not be economically viable” to maintain the plant. So, close the union plant because workers make a little more money and get a little better benefits. That stinks. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger observed that Toyota workers at the plant “deserve better than to be abandoned by this company, which has profited so richly from their labor, their productivity, and their commitment to quality.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Good Corporate Citizen News – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Consumer advocates are known for leveling biting criticisms against corporations for their various bad acts. But when a company does something truly admirable, such actions also deserve our praise. The first admirable event came this week when Toys “R” Us announced that it would allow parents to trade in used cribs, car seats, and other baby products for discounts on new items in these categories. For each used item consumers bring to Babies “R” Us or Toys “R” Us, they’ll receive a 20 percent discount on a new product from select manufacturers. The list of products includes bassinets, strollers, travel systems, play yards, and high chairs.

Why is Toys “R” Us offering these discounts? For a very important consumer protection reason: CEO Jerry Storch told the Wall Street Journal, “We felt these were categories that were somewhat suspect, either because of the nature of the category or because there have been a large number of recalls in the category….We feel it’s critical to get these older products out of the chain of commerce.” Storch is exactly right; once a children’s product is in the market, the chance of getting it recalled and out of the nursery is extremely low, probably under 10 percent. The safety issue is all the more critical with products that children use every day. By offering this discount, Toys “R” Us is helping to cycle the use of older baby products out of the marketplace and bring in the newer, safer designs. Fewer children will be facing product hazards that can injure and even kill them because of the company’s actions.

Full Disclosure: Toys “R” Us has supported the National Consumers League’s teenage consumer education program, LifeSmarts, making financial contributions for the past several years, though the company didn’t ask us to write this blog post.

The second positive interaction with a corporate entity happened to me personally. In planning travel to Minneapolis to celebrate my father’s 91st birthday this weekend, I made the mistake of scheduling a plane trip several hours earlier than one member of my family could make. I was scheduled to arrive from another city, but they were coming from Washington, DC and simply couldn’t leave on the earlier flight. So I called the airlines and talked to an agent. She informed me that taking the later flight would cost $150 per-person change fee and a total of $1,000 to change the reservation for them to fly on the same route only two hours later.

I thanked her and asked to talk to a supervisor. She was perfectly pleasant, as was I, but asked me what she ought to tell the supervisor. “Tell her I would like to discuss my options,” I said. A few minutes later, her boss came on the line and I explained. “I screwed up and made reservations for the wrong time. My mother died this year and my father is celebrating his 91st birthday on Saturday. It would be a shame if his grandson couldn’t be there for the occasion, but I simply cannot spend an additional $1,000 to change these tickets for a flight 2 hours later.” She told me to hang on, and a few minutes later she was back with this news: “I made the change and confirmed your flights for the later time. There will be no extra charge. Enjoy your father’s birthday and thank you for flying with our airline.”

I thanked her profusely and let out a huge sigh of relief. I had despaired that my 13 year-old-son would have to forfeit his ticket and be unable to celebrate with his cousins and grandfather. But here’s the good news: an employee of a big airline was able to hear my story and out of kindness — and perhaps a sense that the rules are often too rigid — bend the rules a bit. No matter, this customer greatly appreciated that companies and their workers can do the right thing by their customers. Whether it’s Toys “R” Us or a big airline, when they do I believe we consumer advocates should commend them for it.

Mourning the Loss of a Lion – National Consumers League

Like many other Americans, consumer and worker advocates are mourning the loss of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a hero and champion of the worker. National Consumers League issued this statement upon the news of his death.

Did you know that Senator Kennedy was the first recipient of NCL’s Trumpeter Award? NCL began giving the award back in 1973, with Kennedy as the inaugural recipient, with the goal of honoring leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and for the rights of consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. Kennedy certainly was a champion of workers throughout his career, fighting tirelessly for minimum wage increases for working families and health care for all.

Sen. Kennedy also championed the rights of consumers. As recently as January of this year, he called upon the Obama Administration to reinstate the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, with a statement in the Congressional Record: “With a new administration focused on bringing needed change to the Nation, a new focus on consumer safety should be part of this change.”

NCL mourns loss of ‘hero and champion’ Senator Ted Kennedy, (1932-2009) – National Consumers League

August 26, 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC, August 26, 2009—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneer consumer and worker advocacy organization, mourns the death of hero and champion of the worker, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

Senator Kennedy embodied all that NCL stands for, promoting fair treatment for both consumers and workers. NCL is proud that, in 1973, Sen. Kennedy was the first recipient of the organization’s Trumpeter Award, an annual honor bestowed upon leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and for the rights of consumers. Kennedy was a champion of workers, fighting tirelessly for minimum wage increases for working families and health care for all.

Sen. Kennedy also championed the rights of consumers. In January of this year, he called upon the Obama Administration to reinstate the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, with a statement in the Congressional Record: “With a new administration focused on bringing needed change to the Nation, a new focus on consumer safety should be part of this change.”

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, offered the following statement: “It will be hard to imagine a Congress without Senator Kennedy at the center of the action. He spoke with compassion for the disenfranchised, immigrants, minorities, workers, and consumers. He will be sorely missed.”

The staff, Board of Directors, and membership of the National Consumers League convey their sincere condolences to the Kennedy family.


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

Tractors, Forklifts and ATVs Among Most Dangerous Teen Jobs – National Consumers League

By Lauren Perez, NCL Communications Intern

Operating tractors, forklifts, and ATVs is one of the most dangerous jobs for young workers. From 1993 – 2002, the last year for which there is a statistic, 18 youths aged 14 and 15 and six youths aged 16 and 17 were fatally injured while operating farm vehicles or machinery. For the same time period, 11 youth workers between the ages of 14 and 15 and 23 youth between from 16 to 17 were fatally injured while riding as a passenger in an automobile or truck or a farm vehicle. In 2003, 26 percent of workers under the age of 17 suffered nonfatal injuries from contact with objects and equipment and 4 percent from transportation incidents.

Five summers ago, in 2004, an eight-year-old boy was assisting his father on their dairy farm and operating a full-sized ATV. The boy lost control of the ATV, causing it to roll over. The boy was killed. In addition to being properly fitted for the ATV, operators should also go through a safety course. 4-H also provides a Safe Riding Tips Brochure for those thinking of purchasing an ATV.

Operating a forklift falls under a “hazardous occupation” according to the Fair Labor Standards Act and youth workers in nonagricultural jobs are prohibited from using one. Youth workers in agricultural jobs who are over the age of 16 may operate a tractor or forklift. In 2004, a 17-year-old worker, on his new job at a grain and hay store for only an hour, was retrieving bales of hay for a customer when a forklift rolled over on him. The keys had been left in the ignition of the forklift, and the worker had not received proper safety training. Employers should be aware of laws prohibiting youth workers from operating forklifts and provide proper safety training.

The National Agriculture Safety Database provides guidelines on choosing an ATV for a young worker and safety measures to follow. Only one rider should be on an ATV at one time, which means no passengers. Youth from ages 8 to 16 may only operate ATVs on land owned or leased by their parent or guardian, however, the NASD warns that youth should not operate full-sized ATVs. The driver should be able to stand on the foot rests with 3” of clearance between their pants and the ATV’s seat. The youth should also be able to reach the handlebars with their elbows at an angle.

Stay tuned for an upcoming look at another of our Five Worst Jobs for Teens: traveling youth sales crews.

Advocates Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Convention 182 Against the Worst Forms of Child Labor – National Consumers League

Earlier this summer, human rights activists marked the World Day Against Child Labor with a commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of Convention 182 at the International Labour Organization (ILO) annual conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Adopted June 1999 and ratified by 171 countries thus far, Convention 182 calls for immediate action for the abolishment of the worst forms of child labor. Setting an international legal standard to protect children from extreme forms of exploitation, the Convention specifically seeks the elimination of child slavery (including the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, and the forced recruitment for armed conflict); child prostitution and pornography; the use of children for illicit activities (i.e. drug trafficking); and all other forms of hazardous work likely to harm the health, safety, and morals of a child.

Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Antonia Cortese addressed the ILO conference, representing both the AFT and the Child Labor Coalition, which AFT co-chairs with the National Consumers League. In her speech, Cortese called for the eradication of child labor and the enhancement of children’s education. According to a recent four-year Global Child Labor Trends Report by the ILO, approximately 11.3 percent of child laborers left the work force between 2000 and 2004. Yet, despite this victory, reportedly 13.9 percent of children—nearly 218 million—work in harsh conditions that deprive them of basic rights and entitlements, including their rights to have a real childhood and a proper education.

Cortese spoke out specifically against the child labor problems in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. Every year during the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, government officials force hundreds of thousands of students and teachers to abandon classrooms for months at a time to harvest cotton which is then exported and sold all over the world. Cortese condemned these policies, urged the Uzbekistan government to immediately cease the practice of forced child labor, and asked Uzbeki teachers to resist the exploitation of their students. “A student’s place is in the classroom learning and an educator’s place is in the classroom teaching—neither one belong toiling in fields, living in squalid conditions and doing dangerous, sometimes fatal, work for the benefit of a state-controlled industry,” she said. “Teachers can not be complicit bystanders and pretend they don’t see what is going on. Nor should they be forced to enlist or oversee children in forced labor situations,” she added. Cortese also called for the Uzbekistan government to allow ILO monitors free and open access to all cotton fields during the next harvest season.

In NCL’s interview with her, Cortese added that as a signatory to Convention No. 182 against the worst forms of child labor, the Uzbekistan government had a special responsibility to do the right thing and stop exploiting its school children.

Cortese felt encouraged by her attendance at the ILO conference. “I was pleased that the ILO set a day aside for the 10th Anniversary—their voice reiterating what they had previously passed will help drive down the number of child labor instances globally.” The attention on the Uzbekistan cotton harvest, coupled with the 10th Anniversary of Convention No. 182 served as a reminder to the global community about the need for a more concerted effort to totally eliminate forced child labor and help the 126 million kids that the ILO believes are still trapped in hazardous child labor.

Free Dental Care Seekers a Reality Check for Health Reform Opponents – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

A recent New York Times article featured a heartbreaking account of the other side of all the screaming protests lawmakers are facing on health care reform. This is the real story, one that describes the desperate need for basic health care services that millions of Americans face every day.

Thousands of people in Los Angeles lined up starting after midnight and snaking into the early hours this week for free dental, medical, and vision services. Stan Brock, the heroic founder of a nonprofit called Remote Area Medical (RAM), usually sets services in rural areas where low and middle income people are without adequate health insurance. RAM this time opened up in a large urban area. The response was overwhelming – 8,000 people over 8 days, many in search of dental services but many also seeking multiple types of care – will be seen this week. On one day alone volunteer health care providers performed 95 tooth extractions, 470 fillings, 140 pairs of eyeglasses, 96 pap smears, and 93 tuberculosis tests.

California’s budget crisis is implicated in this overwhelming demand for basic care – MediCal enrollees have had their dental and vision coverage slashed. Some of the patients interviewed even had insurance – most did not – but those who are insured said that they have such high deductibles and co-pays they can’t afford to take advantage of their benefits.

The National Consumers League has a long history – dating back to the 1930s – of fighting for universal health care. Today we continue to work for coverage for every American.

It’s also significant that the patients seen in Los Angeles are plagued by dental problems, with the cost of dental care out of reach for many Americans. For this reason, NCL has taken a leadership role in joining dental care professionals and educators in advocating for inclusion of dental services in overall health reform. Investing in dental health for our youngest citizens is a wise investment that can prevent tooth and gum disease and thousands of dollars needed to treat those diseases later in life.

Lawmakers would be wise to read today’s NY Times story – it serves as a reality check for those who are protesting so loudly at town meetings and other events that 46 million Americans are without health care coverage and that, despite their fears, this country needs to move forward in providing universal health care to all.

New Study Finds Medical Malpractice Insurance Premiums have Minimal Effect on Health Care Costs – National Consumers League

By Amos Budde, NCL Public Policy Intern

Americans for Insurance Reform, a coalition made up of Consumer Federation of America, and nearly 100 other public interest organizations, released a major study Wednesday on the state of the medical malpractice insurance industry.  It found that insurance rates for doctors have dropped significantly while the medical malpractice insurers are earning record profits.  The conclusion is that the cost of medical malpractice insurance is not crippling doctors and that large profits are going to the insurance industry.

Specifically, the study found, adjusting for inflation, that:

  • Medical malpractice premiums are nearly the lowest they have been in 30 years.
  • Medical malpractice claims are down 45 percent since 2000.
  • Medical malpractice insurer profits are higher than the rest of the property casualty industry, which has been very profitable over the last five years.
  • In states that have substantially limited consumers’ ability to go to court for medical malpractice, the insurance premiums for doctors are basically the same as in other states.

As the health care debate heats up, there will be an increased effort to reduce the costs of health insurance.  This study suggests that medical malpractice is not a significant cause of skyrocketing health costs.  In fact, medical malpractice claims constitute one-fifth of one percent of annual health care costs in the country, according to the report.  Cutting costs through medical malpractice reform is not likely to result in significant savings in health care reform legislation.

When people get hurt by medical errors, doctors and hospitals should be held liable.  According to one study by the Institute of Medicine, 400,000 preventable injuries occur each year related to bad prescriptions alone.  There are severe examples of people losing a limb or suffering permanent brain damage due to a doctor error.

The Americans for Insurance Reform (AIR) is a national coalition supporting reforms to lower insurance rates, increase coverage, and make the insurance industry more consumer-friendly.

The Importance of Dental Coverage in our new Health Care Plan – National Consumers League

By Amos Budde, NCL Public Policy Intern

Providing preventative health care is one of the most important strategies for lowering our nation’s health costs.  We hear a lot about the 46 million Americans without health insurance, but rarely do we hear that more than twice that lack dental insurance.

The case for dental coverage is the same as for health care.  People without health care coverage often get sick with illnesses that could be treated at far less cost if caught early. When it comes to dental care, kids with minor tooth problems may end up with dental disease for the rest of their lives.  This can hurt their ability to stay in school or get a job. Adults with missing teeth find it hard to get jobs as well.

But poor dental health can also kill you.  The Washington Post ran a story about Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old who died of complications stemming from a toothache that could have been cured by an $80 tooth extraction.  Deamonte’s family had lost its Medicaid coverage, and few dentists would even take Medicaid patients anyway.  Bacteria from the tooth spread to Demonte’s brain, leading to hospitalization and two operations.  The total cost of the hospital care was about $250,000, and the hospital was still unable to keep him alive.

The National Consumers League, with our long history of work on health care, recently joined with several other groups including the American Dental Education Association, the Dental Health Foundation, and Oral Health America, in a campaign to underscore the importance of including dental care in health care reform.  The main points of the Open Letter to Congress we are asking concerned groups to join are these:

  • Dental conditions become more serious and are more costly to treat without intervention.
  • Untreated dental disease can have fatal and costly consequences.
  • Access to dental insurance is extremely difficult for the nation’s poorest. Half of all states’ Medicaid plans provide no or extremely limited dental coverage.
  • 130 million Americans, including 16 million children and 80 percent of seniors lack dental insurance coverage.  This is more than twice the total number lacking basic health insurance.
  • Poor oral health can complicate diabetes; heart disease; pneumonia; and further study is needed to determine the documented link between gum disease and preterm low birth weight babies.

Having dental insurance can be the difference between simple tooth decay and losing your teeth, or the difference between a toothache and a serious operation.  Dental care is preventive care; it saves our hospitals and taxpayers the high cost of treating life-threatening complications and helps poor and middle class people get and keep jobs.

NCL supports nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, urges Senators to confirm – National Consumers League

August 6, 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323,

WASHINGTON, DC –- The National Consumers League today urged members of the Senate to support the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. The NCL believes that Judge Sotomayor’s long years of legal experience, including seventeen years on the bench, service as a prosecutor in New York City, and her civic involvement in groups like the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund make her unusually qualified to sit on the nation’s highest court.

“In Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, we see someone who we think will be a fair and compassionate Supreme Court justice,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “Judge Sotomayor also represents the American Dream – that education and hard work can mean that even those who grow up with few material advantages can rise to the highest levels of our legal system, the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Since 1899 the League has championed the concerns of both consumers and workers. NCL looked at Judge Sotomayor’s decisions pertaining to labor matters and found that the Judge, having grown up in public housing in the Bronx as the daughter of a factory worker, has consistently interpreted labor laws to protect those who need it most. She has ruled in favor of workers to be free against discrimination in the workplace, to collect their rightful wages and receive their rightful benefits. She has ruled in favor of litigants seeking freedom from persecution in their countries for union activity.

The League also reviewed the small number of Judge Sotomayor’s decisions pertaining to consumer matters and found her reasoning and conclusions to be fair and balanced. She seems to understand the need for strong consumer protections and supports federal agencies and laws that provide those protections. NCL’s brief review of Judge Sotomayor’s consumer decisions can be found at NCL’s Savvy Consumer blog.


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