Times Warner Cable, Fox carriage dispute – National Consumers League

December 31, 2009

Contact: Carol McKay, National Consumers League (412) 408-3688 or carolm@nclnet.org 

Washington, DC–In response to the carriage dispute between Times Warner Cable and Fox, the National Consumers League’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg has issued the following statement:

We support Senator Kerry’s effort to keep 4 million households, many of them minority households in California, New York, and Texas, from becoming collateral damage in the TWC-FOX carriage dispute. It is not necessary for screens to go blank for the parties to reach an agreement, nor should it be. We urge the parties to uphold their public interest obligations and keep signals on the air as negotiations continue.

For more information, contact Sally Greenberg at (202) 835-3323.

Don’t waste your money – or risk your health – on counterfeit drugs – National Consumers League

When shopping around for prescription medications, watch out for fakes! You could throw your money away on drugs that don’t work, or — even worse — get sick by taking counterfeits that aren’t what they pretend to be.

  • Counterfeit drugs may not have the same active ingredients as the real thing. They may also be produced in unsanitary conditions. Counterfeits could actually make you MORE ill.
  • Only buy prescription drugs from safe, reputable sources. Check unfamiliar sellers with your state board of pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Go to www.nabp.net, click on “Who We Are,” then “Boards of Pharmacy” for a list, or call 847- 391-4406. When buying online, look for Web sites displaying the NABP’s VIPPS seal, indicating that the pharmacy meets state and federal requirements.
  • Don’t be fooled by the packaging. Know the size, shape, color, taste, and side effects of the drugs you take, and examine new packages to make sure everything is right. If you notice anything different about the packaging or the actual medicine, alert the pharmacist and your doctor immediately.
  • Also report your suspicions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you bought the drug by mail, telephone, or in person, contact the FDA Medwatch program, 800-332-1088. To report counterfeit drugs purchased on the Internet, use the form at www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/buyonlineform.htm or call the Medwatch number.
  • For more information from the National Consumers League about counterfeit drugs, visit Fraud.org.

Child Labor Coalition Celebrating 20 Years of Advocacy – National Consumers League

Since its beginning, the National Consumers League (NCL) has cared deeply about the conditions under which consumer products are produced. In the early 1900s, NCL helped pass landmark state and federal laws that protected children from the ravages  of child labor.

In 1989, in NCL’s 90th year, it helped launch the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) to ameliorate the worst forms of child labor and to protect teen workers from health and safety hazards. This fall, the CLC, co-chaired today by NCL and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), marks its 20th anniversary, still going strong. The Coalition brings together 22 groups, including several of America’s largest labor unions, committed to reducing exploitative child labor and child trafficking.

“The CLC’s unique mission is what has made it successful for two decades,” said NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg, who serves as co-chair of the CLC. “By bringing together both domestic and internationally-focused groups, our collective voice carries significant weight and attracts some of the nation’s leading human rights organizations.”

The idea for a coalition of nonprofits, unions, and other advocacy groups to fight child labor emerged rather suddenly in 1989. Several Washington, DC groups had participated in a Capitol Hill child labor forum organized by Bill Goold, a Congressional aide. The energizing forum prompted attendees including NCL’s then-President Linda Golodner and Pharis Harvey, the executive director of what was then called the International Labor Rights Fund (now the International Labor Rights Forum), who immediately saw a need for a collaborative approach to end child labor. A coalition of such groups, they believed, could leverage the resources of its members and speak with a stronger voice than each individual could alone.

Bill Treanor, the founder of the American Youth Work Center, along with Harvey and Golodner, became the original three chairs of the coalition. The AFL-CIO provided $10,000 in seed money, and the CLC was born. Attempts to fund the Coalition over the years have been difficult, noted Golodner, a co-chair of the coalition for 18 years. “It was hard then, and it’s hard today,” she explained, adding that for the most part, the foundation world has turned a “blind eye” to the child labor issue.

Over the last two decades, the CLC has enjoyed a number of successes. Coalition members wrote a model state child labor law that several states used in part. The CLC also worked to eliminate “timed delivery” within the fast food industry, successfully ending Domino Pizza’s 30-Minute Guaranteed Delivery, preventing driver deaths and injuries.

The CLC has hosted child labor forums and meetings, providing an opportunity for nonprofit advocacy groups and the federal officials charged with reducing child labor to coordinate their work and learn from one another. In its 20 years, the CLC has also issued a number of major reports, on such issues as trafficking, to draw the public’s attention toward the child labor issue and guide policy.

The CLC helped organize Global March Against Child Labor activities in North America, bringing much attention to the issue. Fifteen years ago, the CLC helped launch RugMark, the innovative, highly successful child-labor-free certification program for handmade carpets in South Asia.

“We became the voice for child labor advocacy from the United States,” said Darlene Adkins, a former NCL Vice President and the CLC Coordinator for 17 years. “In the early years, our focus internationally was on the consumer: ‘We don’t want products coming into the U.S. made by child labor.’ As the years went by, we got more involved in the global discussion of child labor—‘let’s end child labor globally…let’s make sure children have access to free basic education’.”

In 1999, NCL and the CLC joined the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs to launch the “Children in the Fields” Campaign to reduce child labor among migrant and seasonal farmworker children, who work long hours in the fields legally through exemptions in U.S. child labor law. Today, that campaign has several fulltime staff people; farmworker advocates are optimistic that a legislative remedy will  be passed under the new Administration.

In many industries, it takes the bright light of public scrutiny to bring about action on a problem like child labor. The CLC focuses that light. “The League has been one of the central voices for child labor for 110 years, and that is significant,” added Adkins. “It’s been a core, central part of our mission since the League was established. We are one of just a handful of groups that have had that concern, and I think that’s remarkable.”

In September 2008, Sally Greenberg testified in the United States House of Representatives on behalf of the CLC, urging the Department of Labor to greatly expand its number of child labor investigators. When Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis took office this year, adding labor inspectors was one of the first things she did. To learn more about the ongoing work of the CLC, visit www.stopchildlabor.org.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – National Consumers League

By Emily Walters, NCL Health Policy Intern

Happy Winter! My name is Emily Walters, and I am a Health Policy intern at NCL, assisting with our medication adherence campaign and on other health policy issues.  I have my B.S. in Journalism from West Virginia University and my M.A. in Health Administration from the University of Kentucky; before NCL, I worked in a wide range of fields outside of the non-profit world, including public works, government, hospitals and hospice.  I look forward to blogging about important consumer health issues, including tips to get through the winter season safe and healthy.

Here in the DC area, and throughout much of the United States, the temperatures are dropping and we recently had a record-setting snowfall.

It’s important to be prepared and to stay warm and healthy throughout the season.  We at the Savvy Consumer blog thought we’d share some tips to keep you and your family, as well as your home and car, warm this winter.

There are many simple steps to take to ensure you and your family stay warm, healthy and safe.  These include:

  • wear a hat and cover your hands to help contain your body heat and ensure good circulation
  • dress as if it is 10-15 degrees warmer if you exercise outside so that you won’t overheat
  • check babies often to prevent overheating – feel their chest or the back of their neck to make sure their temperature is comfortable and normal.  Watch their behavior and note anything unusual and remember babies can’t tell you when they’re too hot.
  • use caution on icy surfaces – wear shoes with good traction and sprinkle cat litter or sand on problem areas

The CDC has tips on how to keep your home and car safe and warm during extreme winter weather.

Staying warm is essential to keeping your body healthy and your energy levels high throughout the season.

Keep a Clear Head When Shopping for Last-Minute Gifts – National Consumers League

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

The final, frenzied sprint to Christmas has many consumers frantically scouring the shopping malls and big-box retailers for those last-minute gifts. Under this pressure, many consumers may turn to gift cards as a convenient gift. While these cards are useful, it’s important to watch out for the “gotcha’s” that too often lurk in the fine print.

First, a bit of background is in order. There are two main types of gift cards – closed-loop and open-loop. Closed loop cards are generally sold by retailers for use in a specific store (such as a Target or Best Buy card). They are typically sold for face value, have not expiration dates, and do not change maintenance fees. The profit for the store comes when the card is used to buy merchandise from the store.

In comparison, open-loop cards (known in industry jargon as network branded prepaid cards) are offered by credit card companies, malls, and banks. These cards typically charge an up-front fee to buy the card and may or may not charge monthly maintenance fees. They also tend to expire sooner than closed-loop cards. Consumer should be sure to read the disclosures on the cards themselves or their packaging before buying the card to become aware of any “gotcha” fees. Some open-loop card sellers, notably American Express, have responded to federal legislation and the concerns of consumers, by eliminating fees and expiration dates from their gift cards.

Regardless of whether consumers give an open-loop or closed-loop gift card this holiday season, advice to the recipients should remain consistent:

  1. Use the card quickly to avoid monthly maintenance fees and card expiration.
  2. Keep a receipt for the purchase of the card on hand. This may be needed if the card has to be replaced.
  3. Be wary of gift cards sold on online auction sites. These are often stolen or counterfeit.
  4. If a card’s value is too low to cover an entire purchase, a merchant may be able to do a “split-tender” transaction that will allow part of a purchase to be paid with the gift card and the balance to be paid by another means (cash, check, credit/debit card). If an employee seems unsure how to conduct a “split-tender” transaction, ask a manager to help.
  5. Do not throw away depleted cards. Some merchants may require the card used to purchase merchandise if that merchandise is later returned.

In addition to these consumer tips for gift cards, be wary of other last-minute “gotcha’s”:

  • Shopping online at the last-minute can be hazardous to your budget as overnight shipping can be prohibitively expensive.
  • Be wary of “last-minute” sale items. While retailers do offer steep discounts in the days leading up to Christmas, many retailers surreptitiously jack up their retail prices just before the holidays so they can trap shoppers with “big” discounts during the holiday rush.

Rather than overspending on a last-minute gift, consider the gift of your time. Make a scrapbook, bake cookies, offer free babysitting or dog-sitting services to a friend or loved one. Consider purchasing seasonal merchandise in the days after Christmas and saving it for next year. Retailers often offer deep discounts after the holidays to move such products off their shelves. Just be aware that many retailers will not accept returns of such merchandise so check them carefully for defects.

A happy and safe holiday season to you and your families from your friends at the National Consumers League’s Savvy Consumer blog!

TicketDisaster.org coalition statement on Competition Commission approval of Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger – National Consumers League

December 22, 2009

Contact: (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC–In response to the approval of the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger by British regulators, the public interest and live event industry members of the TicketDisaster.org coalition today urged the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider the profound differences between Ticketmaster’s and Live Nation’s dominance of the U.S. live event market and their market position in Great Britain.

“No matter what the decision is on the other side of the pond, it’s clear in the U.S. market that this merger will restrict choice and competition, leaving consumers with no option but to pay higher prices,” said David Balto, former Federal Trade Commission policy director and counsel to the consumer and industry groups. “The Department of Justice now has an even greater responsibility to side with competition and block this merger.”

“Today’s stunning reversal by the Competition Commission of their previous position opposing the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger represents, we believe, a flawed analysis of an inherently anti-consumer and anti-competitive merger,” said National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Live Nation’s and Ticketmaster’s market positions in Britain differ significantly from their already monopolistic positions in the U.S. We urge DOJ regulators to stand firm and conduct a vigorous, independent analysis of the impact on American consumers of this deal.”

NCL, along with four other consumers and antitrust groups, independent ticket brokers and venue owners and five Members of Congress last week announced the founding of the TicketDisaster.org coalition to help raise the voice of the millions of consumers and live event industry players who oppose the merger.

“Live Nation’s statement today says that they have ‘listened to our fans, artists, and other parties,’” said Greenberg. “Where have they been listening? In a sound-proof box? Two Congressional hearings, a letter from fifty Members of Congress and the outrage of untold numbers of consumers should make the message clear – Americans do not want this merger.”


About TicketDisaster.org

TicketDisaster.org is a coalition of public interest groups, ticket brokers, and independent venue owners and promoters united in opposition to the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. Coalition members include the American Antitrust Institute, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, I.M.P. Productions Chairman Seth Hurwitz (representing independent venue owners), the National Association of Ticket Brokers, the National Consumers League and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG).

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Food Safety Tips for a Happy and Healthy Holiday – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The holiday season is a time of joy best spent with family and friends. Keep those you love safe, happy, and healthy by following these simple tips:

When Cooking

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, both before and after handling food items. Take special care when handling raw meat.
  • Numerous holiday recipes, from eggnog to fruitcake, call for eggs. All eggs – even grade A, with uncracked shells – can be contaminated with Salmonella, so it is imperative to cook dishes containing eggs thoroughly. If cookie dough or cake batter contains raw eggs, resist the temptation to lick the spoon.
  • Keep raw poultry, meat, and eggs away from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Clean all surfaces that come in contact with raw meat or poultry – such as cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops – with hot, soapy water or a bleach solution.

When Entertaining

  • Keep guests out of the kitchen, to prevent individuals from touching food and spreading sickness-causing bacteria, which is present on the fingertips of approximately half the population during the holiday season.
  • On the buffet table: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Serve hot foods in chafing dishes, warming trays, or crock pots, and use a food thermometer to ensure that dishes maintain an internal temperature of at least 140˚F.
  • Place trays of cold foods on ice.
  • Throw away any food that has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours, to better avoid foodborne illness.
  • To avoid bacteria contamination from guests’ hands, refrain from adding new food to nearly-empty serving dishes, and replace the entire dish instead.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages out of reach of children and teenagers and near the watchful eye of a responsible adult.
  • Ensure that the apple cider you serve is pasteurized. Unpasteurized juice, which is labeled as such, can cause vulnerable individuals to become extremely sick.

After the Party

  • Do not drive home if you have had too much to drink. Call a cab, or catch a ride home from a sober driver.
  • If you take leftovers with you after a holiday party, refrigerate them immediately once you arrive home
  • Leftovers stored in the fridge should be consumed within three to four days. When reheating leftovers, ensure that foods reach 165˚F throughout.

Sweeping Financial Reform a Positive First Step – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the most sweeping overhaul of our financial regulatory system, the Wall Street Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act, since the Great Depression. Unfortunately, not a single Republican supported the 223-202 roll call vote. For those of us interested in consumer protection, the centerpiece of the bill is the creation of a federal agency whose job it is to police the financial landscape for systemic risks, begin to oversee the largely unregulated derivatives market, and give shareholders a larger say in the executive compensation. The House bill also sets aside billions to assist unemployed homeowners.

The new agency was the brainchild of Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, who observed that if you buy a toaster, it’s assumed to be safe. As an individual consumer, you’re not expected to detect a defect by reading the 30-page manual; just the same, Warren argued that a financial instrument like a mortgage or car loan can be—and  too often is—filled with tricks and traps that result in consumers being ripped off.

The bill has yet to pass the Senate, but we are encouraged by the House action and believe it’s past time that consumers receive the protection from a federal financial agency, filling a gap that exists today because agencies like the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have fallen down on the job so miserably in the past. This new agency — whose mandate it will be to focus on protecting consumers and the financial markets from dangerous financial products (like certain types of derivatives or subprime home loans that were packaged by the millions and sold to banks with no one concerned about whether the homebuyer could actually pay the mortgage) — will now fulfill this critical role.

Groups again call for change in how Treasury Department regulates alcohol labeling – National Consumers League

December 16, 2009

Six years and NOT counting: alcohol and calories, that is

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC– A coalition of public interest groups today reminded Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that it has been six years since it petitioned the Treasury Department to make “meaningful change” in how the Department regulates alcohol labeling. Summarizing a record of more than 30 years of inaction by TTB and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, and Shape Up America! reminded the Secretary that there is overwhelming public support for a standardized “Alcohol Facts” panel on all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products listing such basic information as the serving size, calories per serving, alcohol content per serving, and the definition of a “standard drink.”

“Today, alcoholic beverages are the only major category of consumable products not required to carry label information summarizing the basic characteristics of the product,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “It’s time the public has the same easily accessible labeling information that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”

The organizations point to one of the consequences of inconsistent and incomplete alcohol labeling: most Americans have no idea what constitutes a “standard drink,” which the Dietary Guidelines defines as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof (40 percent) distilled spirits.

“It shouldn’t take a calculator for consumers to tell how many ‘standard drinks’ are in a particular product or to determine how much alcohol they are actually consuming,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League.

George Hacker, Director of the Alcohol Policies Project at Center for Science in the Public Interest put it this way: “TTB has more than earned a new name: ‘The Take our Time Bureau.’ Endless delay in issuing rules for transparency in alcohol-product labeling has kept consumers in the dark about alcohol and calorie content and has stymied public health efforts to combat intoxication and weight gain. This is yet another example of TTB’s cavalier attitude about the real risks of alcohol consumption.”

While continuing to press for a useful final regulation on alcohol labeling, the four public interest organizations are taking steps to fill the void by providing consumers with information about alcohol content and what constitutes moderate drinking. Especially during the holidays, the organizations want Americans to have these facts:

  • It doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s really how much that counts. Don’t kid yourself into thinking beer or wine is “safer” or less “potent” than the “hard stuff.” So, remember, 12 ounces of beer has the same amount of alcohol as 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eat food while you drink and alternate water or other nonalcoholic drink with your alcoholic beverage.
  • In many cases, alcohol and medications don’t mix. Always read the label to determine if the prescription medicine or over-the-counter drug carries a specific warning about consuming alcohol.
  • Before you go out plan how you are going to get home. Designate a driver, have a taxi number, and money ready to pay the taxi. Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive.
  • If you are hosting a party, keep an eye out for those who may have had too much to drink and planning to drive home. If necessary, take their keys and call a taxi.
  • Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, don’t serve to or buy alcohol for people under 21.

Increasing public understanding of these basic health messages also requires ending the stalemate in modernizing beverage alcohol labels. “There is no debate within the public health and nutrition community about the need for mandatory and complete alcohol labeling,” said Dr. Barbara J. Moore, President and CEO of Shape Up America! “Today’s labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages are outdated, and they don’t demonstrate the national leadership that is critically needed to help consumers count their calories and help address the growing epidemic of obesity.”


Public interest, live event industry groups announce coalition to fight anti-competitive Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger – National Consumers League

December 16, 2009

Contact: John Breyault, NCL (202) 207-2819, johnb@nclnet.org or
Shannon Flaherty, National Association of Ticket Brokers, (202) 425-2404, sflaherty@theheraldgroup.com

Washington, DC–Joined by Members of Congress, leading public interest advocates and live event industry representatives today called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to live up to its antitrust mission and block the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. At a press conference on Capitol Hill, the group called on concerned consumers nationwide to go to the coalition’s Web site – www.TicketDisaster.org – and make their voices heard to policymakers in Washington.

Members in attendance at the event included Representative Michael Capuano (D-MA), Representative Joseph Courtney (D-CT), Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Representative Peter Welch (D-VT). Joining the Members in the announcement of the new coalition was the American Antitrust Institute, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, I.M.P. Productions Chairman Seth Hurwitz (representing independent venue owners), the National Association of Ticket Brokers, the National Consumers League and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG).

Published media reports have indicated that the DOJ is in the final phases of its review of the merger, which the groups called a “disaster in the making for any consumer that wants affordable, convenient access to live events.”

“It continues to be my view that this merger represents the greatest and most urgent threat to music fans across this country, and, if approved, will have far reaching and long lasting negative consequences for concert goers and nearly everyone involved in the live music business.,” said Pascrell, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee who led 50 Congress members to oppose the pending merger in July with a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice. “This is little doubt that the result of this merger will be higher ticket prices and fees for fans, and chilling effects on consumers, business managers, artists, music fans, and promoters, in every state throughout this country. The American people agree: the Department of Justice must swiftly and resoundingly reject this hostile takeover of the concert industry. No concessions from Ticketmaster and Live Nation will cure this merger’s inherent anti competitive nature.”

“This is a textbook horizontal and vertical monopoly that is being proposed here,” said Representative Courtney. “Either we have competition in this country or we don’t,” stated Representative Capuano. Added Representative Welch, “Why should [consumers] be the source of overreaching profit by the monopoly power?”

“This merger is a dead-end for consumers,” said National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “For too long consumers have had to bear the burden of ever-higher ticket prices and add-on fees while Ticketmaster and Live Nation have been left to gobble up the competition. The time is now for the DOJ to step in and say ‘enough is enough.’”

“We do not see any possible divestitures that will create an alternative competitor comparable to what Live Nation is in practice and can be potentially,” said Albert Foer, President of the American Antitrust Institute. “The systemic risk that will be created by this merger is not that it is too big to fail, but that it is too likely to succeed. It is time for the Justice Department to just say NO!”

Tom Patania, immediate past president of the National Association of Ticket Brokers and a constituent in Rep. Pascrell’s district, said “Ticketmaster’s game plan is if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em out, and we can’t turn a blind eye to it. In just the last few years Ticketmaster’s been on a buying spree, spending more than $400 million to acquire their competitors. The question for DOJ is who can compete against that?”


About the American Antitrust Institute

The American Antitrust Institute is an independent non-profit education, research and advocacy organization. Since its formation in 1998, the AAI’s mission has been to increase the role of competition, assure that competition works in the interests of consumers, and challenge abuses of concentrated economic power in the American and world economy. To learn more about the AAI, please visit www.antitrustinstitute.org.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action, founded in 1971, is a national non-profit consumer education organization headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.  For more information, please visit www.consumer-action.org.

About the Consumer Federation of America

The Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of more than 280 groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through advocacy and education.  For more information, please visit www.consumerfed.org.

About the National Association of Ticket Brokers

The National Association of Ticket Brokers, formed in 1994, is the non-profit trade association dedicated to protecting consumers and the secondary ticket market.  For more information on NATB and consumer protection efforts, please visit www.NATB.org.

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 www.nclnet.org.

About the U.S. Public Interest Research Group

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.  For more information, please visit www.uspirg.org.