The protests in Madison: a first-hand view of the fight for labor – National Consumers League

By Guest Blogger Jacob Markey, LifeSmarts intern Summer 2010

Throughout my time as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was told that this was an activist campus. While students here were at the forefront of protests against the Vietnam War, I generally thought that this activism was a thing of the past. I was certainly wrong. The turnout of thousands of students marching in solidarity with teachers, firefighters, and tens of thousands of other union workers to protest a proposed bill to eliminate the right of public workers to bargain collectively is heartwarming. To hear thousands of people to pack the Capitol Building, chanting slogans like “the people united will never be divided” and pledging solidarity, is just another reminder of the power of people. The opportunity to join in these protests is something I will never forget. My father is a substitute teacher in Milwaukee, and a union member, and I feel some connection to what we are fighting for.

Wisconsin has a strong streak of progressivism. We are the birthplace of AFSCME, and of course, the home of the legendary “Fighting Bob” La Follette. The state also has a long and storied history of worker rights. Public workers here were the first in the nation to earn the right to collectively bargain more than 50 years ago.

Public service workers here understand the tough financial situation the state is in, similar to governments across the country. They agree to the necessity of contributing to part of their pensions and paying a percentage of health care costs. Yet, the right to collective bargaining is something they are unwilling to give up. To lose this ability is to give up rights workers have had for more than half a century is simply unacceptable, and is the breaking point leading to these massive protests.

Many commentators are saying this fight sets a precedent for worker rights across the country. It may currently be a Wisconsin issue, but it will continue to show its face throughout the nation this year. As a longtime leader in worker rights, I am proud of my time spent at NCL, as well as the League’s continued support for workers fighting to maintain their rights, both in Wisconsin, and across the country.

Consumer-labor group calls bizarre Missouri Senate bill to reduce child labor protections something ‘out of Charles Dickens novel’ – National Consumers League

February 24, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the organization which helped pass federal child labor laws in the United States more than 70 years ago, is calling a Missouri bill to bring back child labor “straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.” The 112-year-old NCL is condemning a bill introduced in the Missouri state Senate by Republican Jane Cunningham that would eliminate the prohibition on employment of children under age 14.

“Labor crusader Florence Kelley would be rolling over in her grave,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “This is a new low,” said Greenberg. “Those who are attacking labor and worker protections are now apparently willing to put children back into factories or coal mines.”

Florence Kelley led NCL as the organization’s first Executive Secretary from its founding in 1899 to her death in 1932 and helped draft and enact many of the child labor laws in the United States. The National Consumers League currently co-chairs the 26-member Child Labor Coalition (, which works to maintain and improve standards and protections for children working both in the United States and abroad.

The Missouri legislation, SB 222:

  • removes the restrictions on the maxium number of hours and time of day during which a child may work;
  • repeals the requirement that a child ages 14 or 15 obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed;
  • allows children under 16 to work in any capacity in a motel, resort, or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished; and,
  • removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.

“The last provision would make it extremely difficult for state labor inspectors to detect child labor in the workplace,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the CLC and NCL’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards. “Senator Cunningham is portraying these changes as common sense and innocuous amendments to current law, but they are really a full-frontal assault on child labor protections. Cunningham believes that allowing children to work late into the night makes sense, but late-night hours would expose teens to a greater risk of robbery and assault as well as make it more difficult for the young workers to perform well in school the next morning.

“Americans support the bedrock principle that children should be in school and not in the workplace,” noted Greenberg, who serves as co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition. “NCL and other organizations fought for decades to achieve the protections we have today for young workers. We cannot and should not roll back the clock.”


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

Protecting Ticket Buyers in Connecticut – National Consumers League

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

Today, I am testifying in support of pro-consumer legislation up for debate in the Connecticut General Assembly.  The bill, H.B. No. 6298, would protect consumers’ ability to transfer and resell their event tickets.  Some of the major provisions of the bill include:

  • Prohibiting venue owners or ticket sellers from preventing the resale of tickets by season ticket or subscription package holders
  • Prohibiting the denial of entry to consumers holding a ticket bought on the secondary market
  • Requiring ticket sellers using paperless ticketing technology to give ticket buyers the option to receive a paper ticket
  • Prohibit venue owners from requiring ticket buyers to pick up tickets from a “will call” window at the venue
  • Prohibiting the holding back of more than 5% of available tickets from public sale, subject to certain exemptions
  • Prohibiting venue operators and primary ticketers from charging a service fee when consumers choose to pick up tickets from a box office

These provisions are common-sense consumer protections.  Given the increasingly consolidated nature of the live event marketplace, dominated by the “new” Ticketmaster (Live Nation Entertainment), it’s now easier than ever for this live event behemoth to abuse their near-monopoly.

One of the major ways that Ticketmaster is seeking to cut out competitors is through the proliferation of “paperless” ticketing.  At an event with paperless tickets, consumers do not receive a physical ticket that they present at the venue to gain entry. Instead, the consumer is typically required to present ID and swipe a credit card at the venue on the day of the event.

Ticketmaster advertises the convenience of a paperless system and certainly many consumers will find this more convenient.  Unfortunately, paperless-only events restrict consumers in a number of ways.  First, since the ticket buyer must be present to redeem the ticket, a consumer who wants to buy tickets for their children to attend a Miley Cyrus show would have to stand in line to redeem the ticket so that their kids can get in to the show, even if the parent does not plan to attend.  Paperless ticketing technology itself is still in development, as many attendees at a recent Justin Bieber show learned to their dismay while they waited in long lines to use malfunctioning ticket terminals.  Ultimately, many ticket buyers were prevented from seeing any of the show.

The second major problem with paperless-only events is that they make it difficult, if not impossible for consumers to resell their tickets on the secondary market.  Indeed, cracking down on the secondary market is a key reason that Ticketmaster and many artists, venue owners and event producers have embraced paperless ticketing.  NCL supports consumer access to the secondary market.  As opposed to previous decades, where the secondary market was synonymous with shady ticket scalpers, today’s online secondary market generally offers consumers a safe, secure venue for buying and selling event tickets.  While consumers do often pay a premium for tickets on the secondary market, research has shown that 23% of tickets sold on these markets are sold at face value and 17% are sold a below face value.  In addition, due to the rampant practice of holding back tickets for various credit card rewards programs, fan clubs, radio stations, sponsors or producers, the general public often has little opportunity to purchase tickets on the “on-sale” date.  For instance, at a 2009 Taylor Swift show in Nashville, less than 12% of the 13,300 available tickets were made available to the general public.  Similar incidents at Keith Urban and Hannah Montana shows suggest that this is not an isolated incident.

NCL believes that consumers should have a fair shot at buying an event ticket at a reasonable price.  Given the high service fees and rampant use of holdbacks on the primary market, we think that laws such as those envisioned in Connecticut would do much to preserve consumer access to a safe and competitive secondary market.  To help achieve this, NCL is playing an active role in the Fan Freedom Project, a coalition of consumer advocates, business groups and live event fans seeking to ensure fair access to live events and preserve a competitive, safe secondary ticket market.

To read my testimony from today’s hearing, click here.

Let them play – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Football isn’t just a sport; it’s a very big and lucrative business in America, and it’s only getting bigger. The Super Bowl had the most viewers of any sporting event in the United States.  In 2010, each NFL game was watched by an average of 17.9 million viewers, up 13 percent from 2009’s 16.6 million. Even owners of teams with losing records, like Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, have more than doubled their investment.  Snyder bought the Redskins in 1999 for $750 mil and today the franchise is valued at 1.6 billion. That kind of success is true across the board for NFL franchises.

But despite these record profits, the National Football League owners are now threatening to lockout the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) unless the players agree to play 18 official games a season instead of 16, and reduce the share of revenue set aside for player salaries by 18 percent beginning next year.

Right now the players receive about 50 percent of the revenue of the NFL, which I think is about where it should be. After all, the players are doing all the work. We go to games not to see Dan Snyder: we want to see Donovan McNabb or Aaron Rodgers.

I confess that when I first heard about this I figured, sure, millionaires going up against billionaires – is this really a fight we need to get into?

Then I recently attended a press conference sponsored by the nonprofit organization American Rights at Work and the NFLPA, which changed my mind. The players there talked about the short working careers of most of their teammates – around 3 ½ years on average. It also takes 3 years of accredited play under current contracts to get only 5 years of post-career health care. Moreover, many players are in dire need of health care after playing professional football – after sustaining all manner of injuries from this very physical game, they often have joint and muscle problems, and have trouble walking and staying healthy after years of the rough and tumble of a football career. And new research is showing the terrible toll head injuries and concussions are having on player’s ability to live healthy and productive lives in their post-NFL careers.

The lockout the owners are threatening won’t just hurt the players and their families; such a lockout would have ancillary effects on workers and businesses across the country. Indeed, estimates are that every NFL city would lose an estimated $160 million, with over 115,000 jobs affected.

The players say they are satisfied with the current system and are willing to be totally transparent about the benefits and salaries they receive. They are asking the owners for the same openness. I think the benefit of the doubt goes to the players – they are the workers here, they are the one’s putting their physical and mental health at risk each day for our entertainment, and it’s their labor that has made millionaire owners into billionaires. The players’ slogan is “Let us Play” and they want to maintain the status quo, where everyone is benefitting from the profits football brings in. I agree with them, and I think we owe them our support.

Our Fragile Earth – National Consumers League

By Jacob Markey, LifeSmarts Summer 2010 intern

The standard of living for most Americans is far better than even when my parents grew up in the 60s. With advances in industry, medicine, and technology, Americans live longer and have access to goods and information like never before. We can hop on a plane and travel across the world in less than a day and converse with people face-to-face who are thousands of miles away using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology I enjoyed while studying abroad this past fall.

Globalization and industrialization have benefited Americans, but have come at a terrible cost to our planet. To power our cars, planes, and factories, we consume nearly 20 million barrels per day of oil. Combined with coal and natural gas, Americans rely on non-renewable sources for over 80% of our country’s energy needs. Using these energy sources pollutes the Earth. Together with the rapid industrialization of countries like China and India and the world’s continual population growth, a dangerous amount of tension is being placed on the Earth.

The consensus in the scientific community is that substantive change must happen. Many feel a failure to do so will alter the Earth in a plethora of irreversible ways, including an increase in temperature, the melting of the polar ice caps, and changes to ecosystems and agriculture around the world. The sad part is that even with drastic changes, much damage has already occurred.

The good news is that we can change our course! After scientists realized chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the prime cause of the growing hole in the ozone layer, countries around the world signed the Montreal Protocol, eliminating their use. Even though the ozone layer will take decades to replenish, it has begun to recover, signaling a success in the fight against products that can harm our planet.

Dealing with human-created environmental problems is likely to be one of the biggest issues in the 21st century. Teens should therefore follow this issue closely. The world’s youth is responsible for cleaning up the mess left by previous generations. Whether its government policy trying to redress environmental damage or the development of new green technology, the health of our planet is sure to remain a hot topic.

Investment scams: from a quiet Amish community to the Big Apple – National Consumers League

The Amish, a peaceful, insular community that that eschews the use of modern technology, rarely make headline news. Unfortunately, today the Amish are getting considerable media attention for all the wrong reasons. The Washington Post reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating a Madoff-like scheme in which a 77-year-old Amish man named Monroe Beachy filched more than $33 million dollars from more than 2,600 investors, the vast majority of which were fellow members of his Amish community. Beachy has been running his scheme over a 25-year period and was charged with fraud by the SEC yesterday.

Particularly heartbreaking is the fact that Beachy established such trust among Amish parents that many encouraged their children to invest with him as well—investors included a school cookbook fund and a school capital fund. Armed with just a 10th-grade education and some classes from H&R Block, Beachy lured investors by claiming they were earning money from safe U.S. government securities and would receive higher returns than they would get from banks.

Speaking of Ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff himself made news this week when he accused banks of being “complicit” in his investment scam in a recent prison interview with the New York Times. Madoff stated that banks must have known about his Ponzi scheme, which lasted 16 years and cost investors billions of dollars, and that banks are to blame for failing to examine discrepancies between his filings and other information they had at their disposal.

Ponzi schemes

While each Ponzi scheme is different, they all involve a perpetrator who promises to invest client money while instead using the cash for something else, usually for personal gain. The scammer creates fictitious profit reports, and—when an investor asks for their earnings or principal—the fraudster uses other investors’ money to pay them. Ponzi schemes normally go on until someone discovers the truth or there’s no longer enough money left to pay investors and the scheme falls apart.

With consumers from residents of small Amish communities to New York power players falling victim to investment scams, now is a great time to go over some safety tips:

  • Be wary of big earnings claims. No one can guarantee how much you’ll make
  • Scammers advertise pyramid schemes as businesses that provide ‘easy money’ or ‘guaranteed income.’ Phrases like these should be red flags
  • Stocks and bonds fluctuate over time. Relentlessly even, positive returns over long periods of time is often a warning bell
  • Protect yourself by diversifying your brokers and not putting all your money in one person’s hands
  • Remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

For more information on Ponzi schemes click here.

Scammers prey on the elderly in 2010 – National Consumers League

A phone ringing at 3AM usually means one thing: bad news. That’s certainly the case with a Grandparent Scam, in which fraudsters play on the fear that a friend or relative is in danger by calling an elderly victim and posing as a grandchild or acquaintance.The scammer then frantically tells a story of distress (they’ve been arrested, in an auto accident, are in need of lawyer, etc.) that requires money to be wired immediately. The “grandchild” begs the victim not to tell anybody about the call to avoid getting in trouble with their “parents.”

Scammers, always on the look-out for an easy mark, have been mercilessly targeting the elderly, according to the NCL’s Fraud Center and its recently released Top Ten Scams Report. The report, which is compiled annually from consumer complaints submitted to NCL’s Fraud Center, looks at trends in Internet and telemarketing fraud in the last year.

Consumers over the age of 55 make up nearly a third of all reports (32.8 percent), while baby boomers and older consumers total 54 percent of all complaints to the NCL’s Fraud Center in 2010.

“Fraudulent telemarketers and Web-based scammers aren’t just pushy salespeople trying to make a living – they are hardened criminals out to take their victims’ life savings,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Con artists know that older consumers may be particularly vulnerable to falling for a bogus pitch, using scare tactics, posing as legitimate outfits, or making the offer sound so sweet that it’s difficult for consumers to resist.”

Top ten scams of 2010

  1. Fake Checks: 29.67%
  2. Internet: General Merchandise: 27.24%
  3. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts: 20.49%
  4. Phishing/Spoofing: 8.90%
  5. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers: 2.44%
  6. Timeshare Resales: 1.56%
  7. Nigerian Money Offers: 1.28%
  8. Internet: Auctions: 1.14%
  9. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles: 0.99%
  10. Scholarship/Grants: 0.65%

Fake check scams—in which fraudsters lure their victims with phony mystery shopper jobs or sweepstakes “winnings,” asking their victims to cash realistic-looking checks and wire a portion of the proceeds back to the scammer before the check bounces—continued to be the most frequently-reported scam to NCL’s Fraud Center, making up 29 percent of all complaints.

“There is no legitimate reason for someone to give you money and then ask you to wire money back,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy. “If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashiers check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or a bank that has a branch in your area.”

Fraudsters on the line

Despite our increasingly digital society and the growing prevalence of Web-ready devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, scammers have not abandoned the telephone as a method of contact. Nearly a quarter – 23.67 percent – of victims reported being defrauded over the phone, up 7.62 percent from last year.

In 2010, NCL’s Fraud Center saw a spike in telemarketers focusing on bogus prize and sweepstake scams. Among scams where the con artist contacted the victim by phone, these scams increased by 19 percent and are this year’s most frequently reported telemarketing scam.

Wire transfers: Con artists’ preferred method of payment

Wire transfers are great for scammers. Unlike reversing a credit card charge or canceling a check, consumers have virtually no way of getting their money once a transfer has been made. Because it’s such an unsafe way for consumers to pay for transactions, wire transfer remains the payment of choice for scammers, with more than 2 in 5 (41.5 percent) of consumers who reported losses sending money via wire transfer.

For more information on the top scams of 2010, read NCL’s report.

NCL supports the Air Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2011 – National Consumers League

February 15, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League today announced its support for the Air Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2011, legislation that will provide some very basic rights and increased comfort, including food, water, comfortable cabin temperature, and access to restrooms, while a plane is delayed on the ground. The bill would also require that airlines afford passengers the option to deplane after sitting on the ground for three hours. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also directed in the bill to create a hotline for passenger complaints, as well as approving airline contingency plans, and fining carriers and airports that don’t comply.

“These protections are long overdue,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “We applaud Congressman Mike Thompson for his leadership in introducing this bill and Kate Hanni, director of, for her heroic advocacy for airline passenger rights. Kate turned a negative experience – being stranded on a plane for 9 hours on the tarmac with her family – into a constructive and pro-consumer movement for airline passenger rights.”

NCL urges the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to address these abuses on Wednesday, when the Committee begins mark-up of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.


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

A Valentine to the Capital Area Food Bank – National Consumers League

As part of a settlement with a cereal manufacturer, the NCL organized the delivery of close to 100,000 boxes of cereal to the Capital Area Food Bank.

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Monday afternoon, NCL staff paid a visit to the Capital Area Food Bank, the Washington DC area’s largest food distribution facility. With me on the visit were Courtney Brein, our Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow, Daniel Dahlman, our new communications associate, and Karen Marcus, of Finkelstein Thompson, the law firm that represented NCL in the suit.

NCL’s connection to the CAFB stems from NCL’s case against a cereal manufacturer for false and deceptive advertising. The case settled in 2010, and as part of the settlement, NCL arranged to have 96,000 boxes of cereal delivered to the food bank for distribution throughout some of the poorest neighborhoods in the District. We didn’t know this at the time we negotiated this contribution, but the CAFB told us that cereal is in great demand because it is so expensive, and having cereal in this volume will delight food bank clients.

Lynn Brantley, the CAFB’s renown Executive Director and one of the bank’s founders, greeted us at the entrance. She described how the bank got its start in the 1970s as part of an interfaith campaign drive to address hunger in the District. The CAFB then distributed 1 million pounds of food a year; the facility has grown by leaps and bounds since then, serving 700 distribution facilities in the metropolitan area, including food pantries, soup kitchens, child care providers, faith-based organizations, group homes, senior centers, shelters and youth programs. Today the bank distributes 28 million pounds a year of food, including a great deal of fresh produce.

What I found most interesting were the pre-packed bags of food intended for school children and seniors. CAFB’s Molly McGlinchy, who led us on the tour, told us that a lot of kids whose families run low on money toward the end of the month may get breakfast and lunch at school, but they’ll miss an evening meal. They are sent home over the weekend or at night, therefore, with a bag that includes a box of spaghetti, cans of green beans and pears and peaches, and a big jar of red pasta sauce.

The seniors’ package contained similar nutritious foods. In addition to the donations the CAFB receives, the bank also buys food at reduced rates from retailers. We saw food of every description – cans of Vienna sausage, canned chili with and without meat, peanut butter, cake and brownie mixes (very popular!) even vitaminwater!
NCL is proud indeed that our efforts to prevent false and deceptive advertising in the cereal marketplace resulted in this bountiful contribution to the Capital Area Food Bank. The visit today to CAFB reinforced NCL’s historical connection to those in society who suffer from hunger and poverty. We were really so pleased to be able to direct nearly 100,000 boxes of cereal to those in greatest need of nutritious food.

<3 your tap water - National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took an important step towards ensuring that drinking water in communities across the United States is free from dangerous chemical residues. Lisa Jackson, Administrator at the EPA, told a United States Senate Committee that her agency is mandating a limit on perchlorate, a chemical found in rocket fuel and, unfortunately, also in the drinking water of between 5 and 17 million people. The effects of ingesting perchlorate include limiting the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine, an important mineral for good health.

I am a big fan of drinking tap water and therefore applaud the EPA’s efforts. Tap water has many benefits, including the fact that it’s free! But consuming tap water is also much better for the environment. America’s consumption of bottled water, and the concomitant cost of production and disposal, costs billions of dollars every year. Tap water also has an important health benefit since it is often fluoridated, thus preventing tooth decay. Bottled water doesn’t have fluoride and many dentists say the increase in consumption of bottled water is reflected in patients with higher levels of tooth decay. Fluoridated water provides a critical public health benefit for children especially, and it can save them from a lifetime of dental disease.

One of the great health breakthroughs in the United States was the creation of safe drinking water right from the tap. But keeping that water safe is important; which is why the EPA’s action to curb perchlorate, which will also include a separate effort to set lower limits for 16 other chemicals in drinking water, is of critical importance.