Memorial dedicated to fallen workers – National Consumers League

NCL's Sally Greenberg with Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers, on April 28 at the National LAbor College Dedication for Fallen Workers Injured on the job.

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

More than 5,000 workers die each year on the job – that’s 14 deaths each day of the year. Most of these tragic deaths can be avoided. Now we have a memorial that pays tribute to the fallen worker. At a ceremony at the National Labor College earlier this week, this memorial was dedicated. As we walked in, a delegate from the Maryland State legislature introduced herself – she said “I’m here for personal reasons. My dad was injured as a laborer on the job, and though he could still work at other things, he was never really happy at the site from there on in.”

At the official dedication, three other very compelling people spoke – Liz Shuler, Secretary Treasurer of the AFLCIO, David Michaels, the new director of OSHA, and Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers. Shuler and Michaels made it personal – they each talked about how every worksite death affects families and communities and leaves behind mourning children and spouses whose lives will be changed unalterably.

Cecil Roberts got up and began to speak about workers the way a preacher speaks about God. The audience was spellbound. “You’ve got to work to work, not to die,” he repeated. He spoke about the coal miners at Upper Big Branch mine and how so many of them were his friends.

The college will house the names of those who’ve died on the job and pay tribute to them each year. Without their courage and hard work, so many projects would never have been completed.

Maryland takes 2010 national LifeSmarts title – National Consumers League

April 28, 2010

Contact: 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC—The student team from Frederick County, Maryland was crowned national LifeSmarts champions in Miami Beach, Florida on Tuesday, April 27. In a tough final match against the second-place team from North Dakota’s Henderson High School, the Maryland teens outscored their opponents and did it with great sportsmanship. Teams from Kansas and Arizona placed third.

“We are so proud of these students from Maryland, who represented their state program with class and pride,” said LifeSmarts Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “They played hard and demonstrated their consumer smarts throughout the four-day event. They are true LifeSmarts champions.”

LifeSmarts is a program run by the Washington, DC-based National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocate. It competitively tests high school students’ knowledge of consumer awareness, with subjects including personal finance, health and safety, consumer rights and responsibility, technology, and the environment.

New this year at the 2010 National LifeSmarts Championship was the introduction of individual topic area competitions. Teens from each of the 32 state champion teams represented at nationals competed as individuals, and the top five scorers received $500 scholarships from NCL. This year’s winners were:

  • Environment: Ricky Tabandera, Hawaii
  • Personal Finance: Robert Dickens, Maryland
  • Health and Safety: Hafsa Khanum, Connecticut
  • Consumer Rights and Responsibilities: Gabrielle Sclafani, Rhode Island
  • Technology: Pierce Donovan, Pennsylvania

“NCL’s LifeSmarts program is allowing us to rear a generation of consumer-savvy teenagers who often outsmart their parents on issues related to avoiding fraud, credit and debt, and complicated health care decisions,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. In the 16 years that LifeSmarts has been educating high school and middle school teens on consumer issues, it has grown dramatically, with more than 3 million consumer questions at in the online competition during the 2009-2010 academic year.

For team photos, event schedules, grid standings, and more, log on

All winners at the national LifeSmarts Competition received valuable prizes donated by sponsors to the National Consumers League, including scholarships, savings bonds, gift cards, and more. To learn more about the program, contact NCL’s Lisa Hertzberg at 202-835-3323. For a complete listing of this year’s prizes, visit


About LifeSmarts and the National Consumers League

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit:, email, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323. 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

2010 National LifeSmarts Championship a great success – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Once again, our NCL LifeSmarts team outdid itself – the competitions in Miami finished today amid a great deal of excitement and nail biting as the four semifinalists Arizona, Maryland, Kansas, and North Dakota began their morning competitions, leading to the finals where North Dakota and Maryland squared off, and with the Maryland team scoring a decisive victory and becoming our LifeSmarts champions for 2010.

The Maryland team’s coach, a homeschooling and farmer Mom, whose son was captain of the team, explained to me the intense work that went into her kids taking first prize. Since they are all homeschooled, they have more flexibility in their day. She reached out to private and public schools to get their participation, but the officials she talked to said they or their kids were just too busy to devote the kind of time she expected.

So she arranged for her team to meet twice a week for three hours, and they’ve been doing that since last September. The hardest part for the kids is learning the names of federal agencies and what agencies under them do – like the fact that the Bureau of Land Management falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior. If you live in Washington DC, knowing this kind of information is part of your DNA. However, if you live in rural Frederick County, Maryland and you’re 15 or 16 or 17 years old, you have to commit these details to memory. The team visited real people who could teach them valuable information, such as a mortgage officer in a bank and a funeral home owner, to learn about rules regulating funeral home practices under the Federal Trade Commission regulations. They tested each other and researched topics on their own to bring back to the group.

The knowledge these kids from Maryland clearly had gained in preparing for LifeSmarts showed throughout the three days of competitions. They had quick answers to most questions, even on the most complex topics, and seemed at ease with the process. But then again, many of the teams were well prepared and every one of our young participants is surely a savvier consumer after participating in our program.

Our LifeSmarts Team at NCL – led by Lisa Hertzberg and assisted by Brandi Williams, Emily Stevenson, Carol McKay, Theresa Smith, Terry Kush, and Dana Brunson – with a huge assist from Seth Woods, NCL board member and alum of LifeSmarts from Kentucky, surpassed past national competitions by all accounts. Congratulations to the kids, their coaches, their families and thanks to our sponsors for supporting the cause of creating a new generation of consumer-savvy teens.

2010 National LifeSmarts Championship streaming live – National Consumers League

Starting at 9 am EDT Tuesday, April 27, the state champion LifeSmarts team from Kansas will face off against the team from Maryland in the first semi-final match at the 2010 National LifeSmarts Championship event being held in beautiful Miami Beach, FL.

Following that match is Arizona vs. North Dakota, and the winners of these two semi-finals will compete in the final match. Hosted by the National Consumers League and featuring MSNBC’s Herb Weisbaum as Question Master, the excitement begins bright and early. Watch the drama unfold at!

NCL supporting Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act – National Consumers League

April 23, 2010

Contact: (202) 835-3323,
 has signed on with other consumer groups, to a letter to Congress supporting legislation called the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act, which will ensure that when imports come into the United States, they are accompanied by a U.S. Agent for Service of Process and an insurance bond, should the product prove to be defective or hazardous to consumers.
The bill is intended to address the situation in which an overseas manufacturer sells a hazardous product – like Chinese dry wall – in the United States that leaves consumers with health and property damage. This legislation will ensure that consumers have a remedy in the courts and can be made whole if they require compensation for injuries or property damage.
To read the letter from NCL and the other groups, click here..

Car rental lesson – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I recently joined a car rental “club” for one of the big rental agencies. This allows me to be dropped off right at my car from the courtesy bus.  So I went online to book a car for this weekend, and the “daily rate” was $51+ a day for three days, starting on Saturday through Tuesday. They wanted a credit card in advance and I didn’t feel like putting my card down, so I called the number instead.

What do I get but a “weekend rate” that’s half of what was being offered online!  Of course, I grabbed it, but the final bill will literally be half of what I would have been charged had I not made the phone call. Once again, the lesson to consumers – Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware, and don’t just look online when booking hotel or rental cars. Always call and try to negotiate a better rate!

Groups call for private student loan reform – National Consumers League

April 21, 2010

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

Private student loans are one of the riskiest, most expensive ways to pay for college. Like credit cards, they typically have variable interest rates that are higher for those who can least afford them. However, private student loans are treated much more harshly in bankruptcy than credit cards and other comparable types of debt.

NCL, along with nearly two dozen organizations, have sent a letter to Steve Cohen, Chairman of the U.S. HouseSubcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, Committee on the Judiciary, offering strong support for the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2010.

Click here to read the letter. 

Mobile marketing getting the message out – National Consumers League

By Rebecca Burkholder, VP for NCL Health Policy

Did you know that Americans now send more text messages than make phone calls? We sent more than 135 billion text messages each month in 2009, up from 78 billion for all of 2008. Companies and organizations are recognizing texting and other mobile marketing techniques as a way to connect with and provide additional services to consumers.  These new marketing techniques were the topic of discussion at a recent briefing I attended sponsored by Google and the Ad Council.

Mobile marketing—marketing via mobile devices, such as cell phones—is the latest trend for reaching consumers on a variety of issues, including health. The Centers for Disease Control has been using texting to send health messages ranging from information on how to safely cook a Thanksgiving turkey to where to get the H1N1 vaccine.

Why turn to mobile to get the message out?  Because it engages people where they are, in real time, and has the ability to reach diverse audiences and allows for tailored messages.  The CDC KnowIt campaign, launched to encourage HIV testing, was a mobile texting campaign that encouraged users to text their zip code to “KnowIt” (566948) and, within seconds, receive a text message identifying an HIV testing site near them.  The campaign was promoted through radio and television ads and via the Internet. Through text messages, consumers can be directed to Web sites with more information or to sign up for more messages.  For information on H1N1, the CDC encouraged consumers (often through Twitter) to sign up for H1N1 text messages and to visit the CDC Web site.

Mobile phones are also being used to help remind consumers when to take their medications. Applications are now available that help consumers keep track of medicines by creating a customized “pillbox,” which can list all medications, identify  them by color and shape, and schedule alarms to tell consumers when to take the pills.

As we become a society that is dependent on mobile phones and devices (we have our mobile phone within arms’ reach 19 hours a day), using text messages and applications may be one of the best ways to provide health information and promote healthy behavior. And, as it is now, mobile marketing allows consumers to choose how (and how often) they are getting health information. Since consumers have more control over what they receive, perhaps they will be more receptive to the messages.

NCL statement on passing of activist Dorothy Height – National Consumers League

April 20, 2010

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

“NCL mourns the passing of civil rights and early feminist leader Dorothy Height. Dr. Dorothy Height’s activism never went out of style. She traversed many decades of social change and all the while, continued to be relevant.  Height worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who served for many years as a Vice President of NCL. Height stayed true to her commitment to civil rights and women’s political empowerment throughout her career. She continues to inspire generations of young people to work for the public interest.The New York Times said about Height, that ‘the American social landscape looks as it does today owes in no small part to her work.’ NCL is saddened by Dr. Height’s passing, but celebrates her rich and accomplished life and all that she did to bring about social reform in America.”

Mining tragedy uncovering worker safety issues – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I heard on the radio yesterday that the infamous CEO of Massey Energy, Don L. Blankenship, owner of the coal mine that killed 29 workers in West Virginia this month, made $17.5 million last year, not including his deferred compensation  (That 2009 pay represents a $6.8 million raise over 2008 and almost double his compensation package in 2007. Blankenship also has a deferred compensation package valued at $27.2 million at the end of last year.)

This information was contained in a report to shareholders the company is set to release at their annual shareholder meeting. This story prompted me to go back and look at Massey’s shareholder report from last year. I fell upon these ominous sentences in press release on Massey’s 2009 Shareholder Report:

“In response to weak economic conditions, Blankenship reiterated plans to cut operating costs as much as possible while adjusting production levels that are in line with consumer demand. The company has already reduced overtime and implemented a meaningful reduction in base pay and benefits.”

Blankenship is said to be obsessed with the productivity of his mines, checking production levels every few hours. His comments from last year’s shareholder report  portray a company that is trying to squeeze every last drop of profit out of the mine by reducing hours and benefits of the workers—and tragically, in the case of this mining company, short-changing the safety of the miners. An analysis conducted by NPR News found that 10 of Massey’s coal mines had injury rates in 2009 that exceeded the national rate. Miners in four of those mines, including Upper Big Branch, were injured at rates more than double the national rate. The 10 mines together received 2,400 federal safety violation citations last year.

Mining is a dangerous occupation. NCL acknowledged that in a letter to the Mine Safety and Health Administration sent earlier this month. Those who live in the small towns with coal mines often have few employment options. The inherent dangers in mining – methane gas inhalation, black lung disease from coal dust, and mine collapsing – compel the owners to do everything in their power to make the work as safe as possible. Having a union presence inside the mines is a way to ensure better safety, but CEO Blankenship fought to keep the union out, and he succeeded.

If companies won’t make mines safer and if they fight the union, then federal regulations have to be even tougher, mine inspections more frequent, and violations correctly quickly or the mine should not be permitted to operate (while workers should be paid if the mine is shut down for safety reasons). That process has been stymied by the mine owners’ ability to appeal fines and violations ad infinitum, in the process risking the lives of workers. We have seen the tragic results of these failed policies.

Massey Energy and Murray Energy, the two U.S. mining companies with the worst safety records, have been the sites of at least three accidents in the past decade, claiming 40 lives. The two companies together have more than 5,700 hundred safety violations, according to today’s Washington Post.

The juxtaposition of Massey Electric CEO Blankenship’s outsized salary against the myriad safety violations at his mining sites – that just this month has left 29 families without their fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles, and neighbors, is deeply troubling. It’s a shocking example of how, all too often, we allow profits to come before people, and weak regulations and lax enforcement to triumph over worker safety.  NCL welcomes President Obama speaking out for far more rigorous regulation of mines. We stand with the United Mine Workers union in insisting that all miners be represented by unions that will be a voice for safety. We hope this mining tragedy and all that it has uncovered will mean we get serious about mine safety and that no more miners have to die while corporate profits – and CEO salaries – soar.