Remember Cesar Chavez with a call to Congress – National Consumers League

By Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition

Today, we celebrate the birth of legendary farmworker and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of impoverished migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

Chavez began working in the fields at age 10 in 1937 when the Great Depression took his family’s farm in Yuma, Arizona. Nearly a half century later in his Commonwealth Club Address of 1984, Chavez reminded Americans that child labor was still a problem in U.S. agriculture.

Today, sadly, child labor in the fields is flourishing.

Cesar Chavez attended 65 elementary schools as his family migrated to find work. He did not graduate high school. Overwhelmed by constant migration and exhaustion from arduous work, many migrant children drop out of school—half never graduate—and contribute to the generational poverty that has troubled the farmworker community for decades.

We are asking our friends to call Congress today to express their concern about child farmworkers and support for the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, HR 3564. Our alert follows with a list of the current 78 congressional cosponsors attached. If your member of Congress is not on this list, we would very much appreciate your calling today. In the DC area, Rep. VanHollen, Rep. Holmes-Norton, and Rep. Edwards are not cosponsors yet.

Call your Representative on Cesar Chavez Day March 31, 2010 to support the CARE Act (H.R. 3564)

Hundreds of thousands of children work in agriculture throughout the United States. Child farmworkers as young as twelve often work 8-12 hour days under dangerous and grueling conditions. They risk pesticide poisoning, injuries, and suffer fatalities at five times the rate of children working in other jobs. As a result of their long hours, they drop out of school at alarming rates. Nationally, barely half graduate from high school.

Although agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, child farmworkers are exempt from the legal protections granted to all other working children in the US.

Please help us honor the legacy of civil rights leader and advocate for farmworkers Cesar Chavez on his birthday, Wednesday, March 31st by urging your Representative to sponsor the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), H.R. 3564. This important piece of legislation would adjust the age and work hours for children in agriculture to the same standards as other sectors, ensuring equal protection for all children. The bill would also preserve the family farm exemption to permit farmers to pass on work skills to their own children.

Call Congress on Wednesday March 31st at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to the office of your representative.

When the CARE Act is signed into law, children working on farms will have a chance to succeed in school and lead healthy and productive lives. Currently, 77 members of the House of Representatives have sponsored CARE, but we need additional sponsors to get the bill passed.

Sample message:

“My name is ____, and I’m calling from (town/city, state). I’m very concerned about child labor in U.S. agriculture. I am calling because I would like the representative to sponsor H.R. 3564, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment. I believe this bill is critical to protecting the safety, health and well-being of farmworker children and it deserves the Representative’s support.”

We particularly encourage calls to Members of the House Education and Labor Committee who have not yet sponsored the bill. Please click here to see a list with contact information.

Here is our list of the current co-sponsors:

Rep. Abercrombie, Neil

Rep. Baca, Joe

Rep. Becerra, Xavier

Rep. Berman, Howard Rep. Brown, Corrine

Rep. Capps, Lois

Rep. Capuano, Michael

Rep. Cardoza, Dennis

Rep. Chu, Judy

Rep. Clarke, Yvette

Rep. Clay, Wm. Lacy

Rep. Cleaver, Emanuel

Rep. Cohen, Steve

Rep. Connolly, Gerald

Rep. Conyers, John, Jr.

Rep. Costa, Jim

Rep. Cummings, Elijah

Rep. Davis, Danny

Rep. Delahunt, Bill

Rep. DeLauro, Rosa

Rep. Ellison, Keith

Rep. Farr, Sam

Rep. Fattah, Chaka

Rep. Filner, Bob

Rep. Garamendi, John

Rep. Gonzalez, Charles

Rep. Grayson, Alan

Rep. Grijalva, Raul

Rep. Gutierrez, Luis

Rep. Hare, Phil

Rep. Hastings, Alcee

Rep. Hinchey, Maurice

Rep. Hinojosa, Ruben

Rep. Honda, Michael

Rep. Jackson, Jesse

Rep. Jackson-Lee, Sheila

Rep. Johnson, Eddie B.

Rep. Johnson, Henry

Rep. Kaptur, Marcy

Rep. Kilpatrick, Carolyn

Rep. Kucinich, Dennis

Rep. Lee, Barbara

Rep. Levin, Sander

Rep. Lewis, John

Rep. Lynch, Stephen

Rep. Maloney, Carolyn

Rep. Matsui, Doris

Rep. McDermott, Jim

Rep. McGovern, James

Rep. Michaud, Michael

Rep. Moran, James

Rep. Napolitano, Grace

Rep. Olver, John

Rep. Ortiz, Solomon

Rep. Pallone, Frank, Jr.

Rep. Pastor, Ed

Rep. Payne, Donald

Rep. Pierluisi, Pedro

Rep. Rangel, Charles

Rep. Reyes, Silvestre

Rep. Richardson, Laura

Rep. Roybal-Allard*

Rep. Rodriguez, Ciro

Rep. Rush, Bobby

Rep. Gregorio K. Sablan

Rep. Salazar, John

Rep. Sanchez, Linda

Rep. Sanchez, Loretta

Rep. Schakowsky, Janice

Rep. Schiff, Adam

Rep. Scott, Robert

Rep. Serrano, Jose

Rep. Sires, Albio

Rep. Thompson, Bennie

Rep. Velazquez, Nydia

Rep. Waters, Maxine

Rep. Watson, Diane

Rep. Waxman, Henry

Rep. Woolsey, Lynn

Critical first step in overhauling America’s health – National Consumers League

Today President Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, part of the historic health care legislation, at a community college in Alexandria, Virginia. The reconciliation bill signed today adjusts some of the health care legislation signed into law last Tuesday, and represents a “critical first step” in overhauling the health care system so it works for all Americans.

We at NCL applaud this new era of heath care reform, which NCL has been working towards for decades. We note that adjustments can and should be made to the health care legislation in the years to come to ensure that all consumers have access to high quality care. For more on what this bill means for consumers today and in the years to come.

Groups calling on FDA to match UK’s ban on synthetic food dyes – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Last week, the National Consumers League and a number of other concerned organizations sent letters to Members of Congress and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging them to follow the United Kingdom’s example and start protecting children from synthetic food dyes. Specifically, the letter to Congress encouraged members to support legislation that would ban the use of dyes in school foods; fund a study by the Institute of Medicine on the broader issue of diet and behavior; and press the FDA to respond to a petition calling for a ban on most dyes.

Despite the FDA’s stance that no evidence exists of a link between consumption of food dyes and hyperactivity in children, a collection of studies carried out over several decades – and, particularly, two sizeable British government-funded studies conducted more recently – demonstrates that the adverse effect of food dyes on some children’s behavior does in fact hold statistical significance. These findings led the British government to request that food manufacturers stop using the dyes implicated in the studies.

As a result, a number of manufacturers removed synthetic food dyes from their products, and companies including McDonald’s, Nestlé, Kraft, Mars, Haribou, and Kellogg now all sell products free of these dyes in the United Kingdom. The versions of the very same products that these companies sell in the United States, however, still contain artificial dyes. For example, the Fanta orange soda sold in Britain gains its color from carrot and pumpkin extract, while the version sold in the United States gets its orange hue from synthetic dye.

The actions of these manufacturers demonstrate that removing synthetic food dyes from the food supply is, in fact, possible but will not occur without government pressure. Starting this July, the European Union will require companies to put a warning label about the link between synthetic food dyes and impaired behavior in children on most products containing these dyes, a measure which will likely encourage companies to reformulate their products, much in the way that requirements about disclosing trans fat on nutrition facts panels led to widespread product reformulation in the United States.

It is the hope of the National Consumers League, as well as of our fellow advocates, that the United States will become the next country to recognize the deleterious effects that synthetic dyes can pose for our children and take measures to begin to remove them from the food supply.

Skin cancer on the rise – National Consumers League

By Mimi Johnson, Director of NCL Health Policy

It does not matter that I have never smoked, nor that I have been a vegetarian for the majority of my life. It does not matter that I am physically active. It does not even matter much that I practice sun smarts. I am cursed with fair skin and, no matter how hard I try to prevent it, I am still at high risk for developing skin cancer.

In fact, by age 25 I had my first spot removed. This is one of many reasons I am grateful for health reform; no longer must I worry that my fair skin might prevent me from obtaining – or keeping – health insurance. Better yet, my preventive skin screenings will no longer break the bank.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and its “popularity” continues to rise. Millions of new cases are reported each year, rising 4.2 percent each year from 1992 to 2006 – or DOUBLING over 14 years. Still, researchers believe there are many more cases of non-melanoma skin cancer each year that don’t get reported.

While these rates are high, and experts anticipate they will rise at an even faster pace in the coming years, non-melanoma skin cancer – either basal or squamous cell – are rarely fatal and largely treatable. If left untreated, squamous cell skin cancer can spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Whether you tan or burn, we are all at risk of developing skin cancer, and it is important we take steps to prevent it.

DNA-based disease predictors both thrilling and intimidating – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

At a conference last week I heard the co-founder of 23andMe speak about using her company’s technology to look at our DNA to predict the risk of getting a number of diseases. Anne Wojcicki described how her husband’s DNA showed he had a gene that makes him a likely candidate for Parkinsons disease. She didn’t mention her husband by name, but he happens to be Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.

The 23andMe kit gives consumers the chance to deposit their saliva into a vial, send it to the company, and receive a comprehensive report that can predict the likelihood of getting 12 different diseases, of having adverse responses to nine drugs, and test whether they happen to be a carrier for 21 different diseases.

I find the description of what 23andMe can do both thrilling and intimidating. Thrilling because you can look into your future. Intimidating because do you really want to?

Interestingly, a New York Times article about these gene decoding services suggests that consumers are slow to pick them up. Some of the companies – the Times listed four that are in the biz – have laid off staff and are not seeing their customer base grow in substantially. DeCodeMe, for example, has 10,000 customers and Navigenics has about 20,000, 5,000 of whom were given discounts to be in a study.

This is understandable. What if you find out you show signs you’re likely to end up with a certain disease, and your insurance company claims this was a “preexisting condition” and denies you coverage in the future? I spoke with Anne Wojcicki about that and other privacy concerns. 23andMe consulted the electronic privacy group, Electronic Frontier Foundation to review privacy issues when designing the technology, she said.

The technology is evolving, and the product makers are evolving with it. And the companies have been doing some useful work, like comparing those who suffered miserably with swine flu to those who did not, with the possibility of discovering some useful information that a drug company can use to design its vaccines. Still, using the study of genomes to gauge health care risks is really a brave new world for most consumers and one that may never catch on. Only time will tell.

Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night: my experience with @ComcastCares – National Consumers League

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

The cable industry in general, and Comcast in particular, is not generally associated with robust customer service. From technicians sleeping on couches to lackadaisical service calls, to full feature films, it seems everyone has their own horror story to tell about dealing with the cable giant. Add to this a history of anti-union practices, rate increases, and an impending mega-merger, and Comcast has rarely been a darling of the public interest community.

But this isn’t a story of how Comcast failed the public. Rather, it is a recounting of how judicious use of Twitter turned a frustrating customer service experience with Comcast into a less-frustrating one.

This February was a doozy for the Washington, DC area (where NCL is based). We were hit with no less than two major blizzards dumping 75 inches of snow on the region. The first snowstorm knocked out cable service to my home in Virginia (a snow-heavy branch knocked the cable wires off the box on the pole behind our house). Since I have the triple-play bundle (TV + telephone + Internet) through Comcast, I was left clinging to the information superhighway via my cell phone. Given the historic snowfall, I put in a call for repair to Comcast and hunkered down to wait. Three days later, despite clear skies, relatively snow-free streets, and a promise from Comcast customer service that a technician would arrive that afternoon, no one arrived. Why? Because no one picked up our (inoperable) phone when the Comcast technician called ahead to find out if we’d be home. With the second blizzard on the way, my hopes for a speedy resolution to the problem quickly turned into frustration.

So, I tweeted.

Within minutes, I had received a reply message via Twitter from Comcast’s customer care team (@comcastcares@comcastBill@comcastdete). A few short emails and a call from a supervisor later and I was on my way to getting the problem resolved more quickly than I had originally been told would be possible by regular Comcast customer service.

The moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to leverage social media, and Twitter in particular, when traditional customer service isn’t getting you the results you were hoping for. Take the extra step of finding out if the company in question has a Twitter account that they monitor (a quick search engine query with of “[company name] Twitter” should produce a decent list. If the company has a Twitter account, direct your tweet at them via the “@” function. Finally, if using Twitter got you the results you wanted, be sure to tweet about that too. It’s just good karma.

And be sure to follow NCL_tweets online!

Health care win for consumers: NCL applauds House passage of reform bill – National Consumers League

March 21, 2010

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer group, applauds the United States House of Representatives and President Obama for the passage of historic health care reform legislation. As President Obama has stated, this bill is “the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare” was created in 1965.

For decades NCL has advocated that our country’s health care system is in need of reform, and this legislation marks a long overdue step forward toward a higher quality system that is more patient-centered and cost-effective.

“We recognize that reforming our health care system is no easy task,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director, “and we support lawmakers who put ensuring quality health care for all Americans ahead of politics today.”


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

Watching votes on ‘most important step since Medicare’ – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The actions taken today in the U.S. House of Representatives are as important as any in American history. Whether the United States will join the other 32 developed nations that provide universal health care to its citizens will be decided in the vote on the floor today in the House. The U.S. Senate voted the bill out on Christmas Eve last year, so the House will be working from that draft. When it passes – and I sincerely hope that it does – the Senate will have to give it a final okay, and then the bill will go directly to the President for his signature. Mr. Obama has said the bill is “the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare” was created in 1965.

This issue has long been on the front burner for the National Consumers League. Florence Kelley – NCL’s leader for our first 32 years, thought her greatest accomplishment was the passage in 1921 of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act, which for the first time allocated federal funds for health care. Josephine Roche, NCL’s president in the late 1930s, wrote the first universal health care legislative proposal while a member of FDR’s administration. Pieces of her draft laid the groundwork for the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The legislation is sure to fall short of the goals many of us have for a universal coverage. For example, NCL strongly supported the inclusion of a public option but that was removed under pressure from insurance companies and citizens who claimed they didn’t want “government making health care choices for them.” That seems like a dubious argument because the Medicare program – which provides health care to seniors – is hugely popular – and is a government-run health care program. I’m in the camp that believes that we can improve upon the basic protections this legislation will bring to many Americans and that we need to start somewhere.

The bill includes provisions for state-run insurance exchanges, in which small business and people without employer coverage can buy insurance that would meet new federal standards. The new law would prohibit denial of health care coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions, and Medicaid would be expanded to cover everyone with income at or below 133 percent of poverty level.

As of this writing on the Sunday morning before the vote, they still don’t have the votes to pass. But I’m convinced they will find them. It’s disturbing to read in the Washington Post that angry groups rallied against the bill and hurled epithets against black and gay members of Congress and shouted “Kill the bill.” Historically, the right and the business communities fought every federal social program, using demagoguery and outlandish claims about government takeovers. They fought Social Security, Medicaid, the AMA, minimum wage and hours regulations laws, and used Ronald Reagan to rail against the Medicare law in the 1960s. But our society and our citizens are far better off because these programs were passed, and the vast majority of Americans have come to appreciate their value. I believe they will soon come to feel the same way about universal health care.

Reflections from PhRMA annual meeting – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I heard a lot of inspiring speeches yesterday at the annual meeting of Pharma companies. Congressman Butterfield from North Carolina talked about his district, which is one of the five poorest in the United States, where health care is unavailable to many of his constituents. He supports the health care reform bill that is likely to pass shortly in the House and Senate. The Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, spoke as well, talking about the new comprehensive program they’ve launched in that very poor state. The governor says it will cover anyone “who goes to work every day.” The governor pointed out that while the poor can get health care (not always), older Americans have access to Medicare, babies and children have S-CHIP, but everyone in between can’t get coverage, and many workers are too poor to pay health care premiums and get coverage. He talked about the importance of covering dental care, which is a window to good health overall. Good dental health can prevent a lot of dental and other diseases down the road.

Parents of children with rare diseases spoke, and their accounts were heartbreaking. One couple had lost their 24-year-old son recently; another is fighting to save their 13-year-old who suffers from a disease that ages children prematurely. I admired their bravery, their strength, their commitment to trying to find a treatment and cure for these diseases, whose results may show up long after the loved one or relative has died.

‘Deeming’ health reform into reality – National Consumers League

President Obama postponed his trip to Asia.  Speaker Pelosi and her staff are working overtime, trying to gather support for the bill passed by the Senate in December.   We’re still a bit optimistic that we will see health reform make it off the Hill for the first time in more than a generation.

Beyond reconciliation, the Democratic leadership believes that the “deem and pass” plan might be the best option.   The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers “deem” the health-care bill to be passed.

You still have time to make your voice heard and to help move this legislation into law and improve the lives of every American.