The lasting relevance of the Fair Labor Standards Act – National Consumers League

By Ben Judge, NCL Public Policy Intern

Last month, in the Education and the Workforce subcommittee on Workforce Protection in the House of Representatives, there was much talk about the changing times, with and certain members calling for “modernization” of one of the most important workers rights laws ever passed—the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA was passed as one of the New Deal provisions of 1938, covers over 130 million workers, and controls how many hours someone can be required to work in a week.

If you benefit from overtime, minimum wage, or have children who are not working in heavy industry, then this law directly affects you.

How the FLSA protects workers and why the Republicans find it wrong
The FLSA protects workers by limiting the number of hours that can be worked under a normal hourly wage to 40 hour a week.  Whenever someone works over 40 hours they are entitled to overtime.  However, Republicans believe that the traditional 40-hour workweek outlined in the act isn’t flexible enough for the 21st century worker, although the FSLA already allows for a pretty flexible schedule.  Republicans would like the see the act “modernized” by allowing companies to exempt more workers from the FSLA, and bring more workers on as independent contractors.  Republicans says that with more workers exempt and their schedules more flexible that there will be an increase in employment and an increase in economic growth.  To counter that argument, although there could be an increase in employment, the wages of those employees would be much lower and the amount of time they work would be much high.

Moving forward
As attempts to roll back regulation and workers rights, it is important that those who are covered by the FLSA stand up and unite to prevent it from being “modernized” to fit the Republican agenda.  Do not let this important law be weakened!

Luxury goods sales highlight rich-poor gap – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

A front page New York Times story that ran yesterday, Aug. 4, begins like this:

“Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin ‘Bianca’ platform pumps, at $775 a pair. Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years.”

In the perverse world we live in, the 9+ percent unemployment rate for millions of Americans won’t budge, more than 50 million of us are without health insurance, and more than 5 million citizens are living solely on food stamps – that’s right, they have no other resources, so food stamps are their only safety net.

And the gap between rich and poor in America continues to grow. In 1915, an era in which the Rockefellers and Carnegies dominated American industry, the richest 1 percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all income. Today, the top 1 percent account for 24 percent of all income. During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth. Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent. That’s because the increase in productivity wasn’t shared; it was commandeered by the rich and the very rich.

Today, sadly, the vast majority of Americans live a far more modest existence, and many are poor.

Meanwhile, the Times article quotes a designer brand that sells shoes that cost $2000 each. That’s hard to fathom – or to justify – in this economy.

NCL continues to denounce the Corn Refiners Association’s petition to mask High Fructose Corn Syrup using “Corn Sugar” – National Consumers League

August 3, 2011

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

Washington, DC– In a letter sent to the FDA today, the National Consumers League (NCL) continues to urge the FDA to oppose the Corn Refiners Associations’ (CRA) petition to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), under the grounds that the name change would be contrary to public policy, inconsistent with emerging scientific evidence, and not in accordance with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act.

There are a number of legitimate reasons why many consumers wish to avoid foods made with HFCS. The scientific community is actively researching the health effects of HFCS.  Preliminary studies have shown that HFCS consumption may be linked with a number of adverse and interrelated diseases and health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease and certain forms of cancer. Leading medical authorities have noted the nature of the emerging research in the area.

The FDA has a statutory responsibility to honor to ensure that consumers have the opportunity to exercise free choice in the marketplace without being misled by confusing name changes designed to hide the identify of ingredients contained in a food product.

Consumers rely on FDA to ensure honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace without interference by commercial interests that claim to speak for the public.   Emerging scientific and nutritional studies are suggesting differences between high fructose corn syrup and sugar.  If it should turn out that HFCS contributes to health problems, a regulatory decision allowing manufacturers to hide this ingredient from consumers would be a great disservice to the public and inconsistent with FDA’s statutory mandate.

To read the full letter, please click here.


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

NCL joins 9 other groups in calling on Administration to fill upcoming Commissioner vacancy on the Consumer Product Safety Commission – National Consumers League

August 3, 2011

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

Washington, DC– Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Consumers Union (CU), Kids In Danger (KID), National Consumers League (NCL), National Research Center for Women & Families (NRCWF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Public Citizen (PU), U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urged President Obama to quickly nominate a Commissioner at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in a letter sent today.

After serving three terms (16 years) of distinguished service, Commissioner Thomas Moore will leave the CPSC on October 26th, 2011, leaving an unfilled Commissioner slot, which could have unfortunate consequences for the CPSC and for consumers.

If Commissioner Moore’s vacancy is not filled before he must leave the CPSC, the Commission will unfortunately be hampered by a deadlock. Without a full complement of Commissioners, the agency may be prevented from making final decisions on numerous safety matters. The Commission has had close (3-2) votes about lead limits for children’s products, the implementation of the consumer incident database, and extending the deadline for compliance with the crib standard. The Commission has been working hard to meet its Congressional mandates as required by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This progress would not have been possible without five CPSC Commissioners in place.

The CPSC is committed to the mission of protecting consumers from hazards posed by unsafe products and needs all five Commissioners to work effectively. A vacancy at the Commission could place CPSC progress on key safety issues in jeopardy.

To read the complete letter, click here


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

Ramming Legislation Through…. – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

As a child, when something doesn’t go our way we may pout, throw a tantrum and sometimes even break our toys.  As a teenager we may slam the door or walk out, but as an adult, we’re supposed to suck it up and deal. But what do members of Congress do when something doesn’t go their way?

In the case of a few Republican members of the House, you respond by creating a piece of legislation that guts an independent federal agency and strips away the rights of American workers. When the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled against Boeing for moving their plant from Washington state to South Carolina as retaliation to union workers in Washington, these members crafted H.R. 2587, “Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act,” as a way to protect Boeing and other Fortune 500 companies from facing the consequences when they trample on their employees’ rights.

“The legislation (H.R. 2587) is nothing more than a rush to protect one special interest to the determent of all American workers,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  “The bill presents American workers with a choice: you can have your rights or you can have your job.  But you can’t have both.”

H.R. 2587 would remove the only meaningful remedy available to workers if a company illegally moves operations or eliminates work because workers engaged in protected activities such as organizing a union.  An employer can outsource for any reason, except for an unlawful reason.  Retailing against workers for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act is one unlawful reason.

“These rights to organize and collectively bargain are meaningless if there is no effective remedy when they are violated,” said Miller.  “The impact of this change would be wide-ranging.”

H.R. 2587 was pushed through the House Education and the Workforce Committee last week by a party line vote in less than 48 hours after it was introduced and is expected to be up for a full House this week.  If passed by the House, the Senate will hopefully put a stop to this troubling and dangerous piece of legislation.

It’s time that ALL Members of Congress stop acting like children and act like the adults they’re supposed to be. After all, they were elected to uphold the Constitution, protect American workers and serve their constituents—not to protect and serve the special interests’ of Fortune 500s.

Death of two 14-year-olds girls in an Illinois field underscores the need for an overhaul of U.S. child labor laws, groups condemn new laws that weaken protections for young workers – National Consumers League

August 1, 2011

Contacts: Reid Maki, Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition (202) 207-2820, & Nick Grisewood, Executive Director, Global March +353 61921685,

Washington, DC—The tragic death of two 14-year-old girls while detasseling corn in Tampico, Illinois last week stands as a painful reminder that U.S. child labor laws are inadequate and efforts by states to weaken current protections are further endangering the lives of American children.

Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, two friends from Sterling, Illinois, were electrocuted while they worked with a crew of about 70 others, including workers as young as 13. Ten workers were injured in the electrocution incident whose cause is still unknown. According to news reports, the girls were employed by Monsanto Corporation, which was acting as a contractor. They worked in a muddy field, detasseling corn—a common job for many teenagers in the Midwest that involves removing tassels to encourage cross-pollination—when they received a shock from a nearby center pivot irrigation system. Fourteen-year-old Delanie Knapp, was taken to a Rockford hospital and listed in “serious” condition. Seven other workers were taken to the hospital and released.

“We are devastated by this terrible news and our thoughts go out to the families of these young workers,” said Sally Greenberg, the co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) and the executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL). “Across the nation, legislators in Maine and Wisconsin have weakened child labor laws by allowing teens to work longer hours in recent months. In Missouri, the state’s child labor inspection team was eliminated. Legislators need to know that child labor laws save lives and any weakening of protections has very serious potential consequences.”

Agriculture is consistently ranked as one of the two or three most dangerous industries in the U.S. Each year, NCL produces an annual report titled, “The Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens” and agriculture regularly tops the list. “Young teen should not be allowed to work in the fields, given the dangers posed by chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as heavy machinery and razor-sharp tools,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the CLC, which believes that 14- and 15-year-olds should only be allowed to perform agricultural jobs deemed safe for them by the Secretary of  Labor after careful evaluation. In March of this year, two 18-year-old Illinois teens were electrocuted as they worked with irrigation piping.

“As a child, I spent every summer since the age of 12 detasseling cornfields in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa,” said Norma Flores López. “This work is grueling and puts children’s health at risk, yet exemptions to U.S. child labor laws allow 12- and 13-year-olds to perform back-breaking farm labor for very low pay.” Flores López is the Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs and the chair of the CLC’s Domestic Committee.

The CLC strives to protect children around the world, including the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the U.S. who work long hours in the fields. The CLC is working to help pass the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), HR 2234, federal legislation to remove the child labor exemptions for agriculture and prohibit farm work for kids under 14 (unless children are working on a family farm for their parents). The proposed law would require the U.S. Secretary of Labor to determine if specific farm jobs like detasseling corn are safe enough for 14-and 15-year-olds to perform and would prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from doing agricultural jobs already determined to be hazardous.

“Children working as farm laborers suffer serious educational impacts in addition to the physical health threats,” said Toni Cortese, the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million public service employees. “They drop out at rates several times that of other kids because they miss so much school and experience so many disruptions in their education. They are sacrificing their futures to put fruits and vegetables on our tables and it isn’t right.”

“The U.S. has worked diligently to reduce child labor around the world, but it must address its own child labor problem,” said Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labor. “Internationally, child labor in agriculture is the most frequent type of child labor, experienced by 60 to 70 percent of child laborers around the world. The conditions experienced by migrant children in the U.S. are not much different than the conditions experienced by child laborers in the cocoa fields of Ghana or the school children who are forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan.”


About the Child Labor Coalition. The Child Labor Coalition is composed of 28 organizations, representing consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad.

About the Global March Against Child Labor. The Global March Against Child Labour was established in 1998 to plan and coordinate a worldwide social mobilisation effort involving thousands of organisations and people in all four corners of the globe to raise awareness of child labour and to support the adoption of ILO Convention No. 182 on worst forms of child labour in Geneva in 1999. It is a global network of trade union, teachers’ and civil society organisations that work together towards the shared development goals of  eliminating and preventing all forms of child labour and ensuring access by all children to free, meaningful and good quality public education. Global March mobilises and supports its constituents to contribute to local, national, regional and global efforts and support for a range of international instruments relating to the protection and promotion of children’s rights and engages with UN and international and inter-governmental agencies on the same.

In support of the “Bittman tax” – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Last year, DC City Councilwoman Mary Cheh introduced legislation to place a one-penny tax on sugary drinks sold in the District.  NCL supported Cheh’s bill, which passed the DC City Council unanimously. The proceeds from the tax would have been directed to fighting obesity in the District.  The sugar lobby went all out to defeat the bill, throwing millions of dollars into ads on billboards, television and radio. I even received a robo call message on my home answering machine warning me about this “dangerous” legislation. This industry onslaught succeeded in killing the bill. The defeat occurred despite these facts:

  • 43% of students enrolled in DC public schools are overweight or obese — one of the highest rates in the nation.
  • The District government spends more than $400 million annually to treat obesity.
  • For children, each extra can or glass of sugar-sweetened beverage consumed per day increases their chance of becoming obese by 60 percent
  • Of the 278 additional calories Americans consumed on average, per day between 1977 and 2001, more than 40% came from sugary drinks.

In a recent New York Times article, Mark Bittman, the food writer and chef, proposes something similar to Cheh’s legislation: a 20% increase in the price of sugary drinks, which would cause a 20% decrease in consumption, which would prevent about one and half million Americans from becoming obese and 400,000 cases of diabetes, saving an estimated $30 billion.

His proposal makes a lot of sense to me. The average American consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks annually, including diet drinks. The Bittman tax would add $1.44 cents to a six-pack of Pepsi. That money would be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonable greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit. Bittman argues that the government should play a much stronger role in public health. He’s right. This country is facing a public health crisis, with rapidly rising rates of obesity among adults and sadly, children. Why not make it more expensive to consume the stuff that’s nutritionally bereft and use those funds to subsidize the provision of healthy foods, especially in those communities where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find? The only thing stopping us is the junk food lobby, but in time, a strong enough push from a groundswell of Americans who are convinced we need to take strong steps to reverse obesity rates – and the diseases that rise – can overcome even that junk food juggernaut.

Labor Day: Demanding legal wages for hardworking Americans – National Consumers League

End-of-summer barbecues, final trips to the beach, and the hectic start of the school year are usually what come to mind with the arrival of Labor Day. But with an increasingly erratic economy, high unemployment rates, and attacks on unions making headlines, this year’s Labor Day is the perfect time to examine the many challenges currently facing the American workforce.

Labor Day was originally started by the labor community not only as a means to celebrate their union accomplishments, but also as a day for workers to air grievances and discuss strategies for securing better working conditions and salaries. Labor advocates certainly have their fair share of grievances to air this season as major corporations continue to rake in $100 billion profits while reducing employee health benefits and pensions; workers are being forced to go on strike to demand fair treatment; and employee class-action lawsuits are stacking up in courts.

One troubling labor issue that hasn’t received much attention is wage theft, in which an employer illegally underpays or fails to pay an employee at all. Wage theft affects all sectors of the workforce; both white and blue-collar workers in industries across the board are vulnerable to this particular type of violation.

Wage theft can occur in a variety of different ways, all of which illegally rob employees out of what’s rightfully theirs. Wage theft tactics include:

  • Unpaid overtime
  • Employee misclassification
  • Minimum wage violations
  • Forcing employees to working off the clock
  • Making illegal deductions from pay
  • Not paying employees at all

Employee misclassification is one of the most common forms of wage theft and has incredibly far-reaching consequences, victimizing everyone from workers to Uncle Sam. With employee misclassification, an employer illegally mislabels an employee as an ‘independent contractor’ instead of an ‘employee,’ in order to be exempt from paying payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation—resulting not only in diminished capital to federal and local governments but saddling employees with additional IRS taxes in the process.

A typical misclassification scenario works like this: a Plano cable TV installation company in Texas was paying its workers on a piece-work basis and offering a flat rate for every cable installation they completed. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division conducted an investigation and determined that installers should have been classified as nonexempt employees, entitled to time-and-a-half their regular rate of pay for overtime hours worked. DOL sued on the workers behalf and the company has been ordered to pay $270,696 in back over­time to the 114 workers it illegally classified as independent contractors.

While wage theft can occur in any industry, certain industries are notorious for paying their workers below the legally required minimum wage. Restaurants, hotels, and janitorial and construction companies have a high frequency of underpaying their workers for both minimum wage and overtime.  Unfortunately, it’s still legal to pay someone below the minimum wage if they’re working in agriculture or are mentally disabled.

This Labor Day, let’s honor America’s workforce by demanding that all employers, regardless of industry or color of their workers’ “collars,” pay each and every worker the compensation they’ve rightfully earned.

To bring some much needed attention to this critical issue, NCL has launched a year-long Special Project on Wage Theft to raise awareness about the nature of wage theft in the United States and educate consumers, workers, businesses, and governments about wage theft issues. Stay up-to-date on the latest wage theft battles by following us on Twitter and Facebook.


NCL urges ACIP to consider the routine early childhood vaccination with the meningococcal vaccine – National Consumers League

August 1, 2011

Washington, DC- In a letter sent today, the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer organization, founded in 1899, urges the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to give serious consideration to recommending “routine” vaccination of children under age two with the meningococcal vaccine when it considers meningococcal vaccine at its upcoming October 25-26, 2011 and February 22-23, 2012 meetings.

To read the full letter, please click here.