‘But Moooooommm!’ – help for parents shopping for tweens’ cell phones – National Consumers League

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

As kids head back to school this time of year, parents will undoubtedly soon be deluged with requests to buy cell phones for their children. Research shows that children are having these wishes fulfilled at progressively earlier ages, as well.

For example, a 2009 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey found that 5 percent of 16-year-olds say they received their first cell phone at age 11 or before. Conversely, 57 percent of 12-year-olds say they received their first cell phone at age 11 or before.

The complaints of family blogger Carol Brooks Ball mentioned recently are typical when it comes to parents’ headaches surrounding their tweens’ first phones:

“Both of my children have cell phones. And both phones, in my mind, were purchased for the sole purpose of keeping in touch. With me.

Them, not so much. To them, their cell phones serve the purpose of allowing virtually-constant contact with friends.

When I first got the kids their cell phones – when they were both ‘tweens’ – I learned the hard way about the cost of going over the wireless plan’s small monthly allotment for text messaging. My daughter quickly burned through the texting limit (my son wasn’t, and still isn’t, much of a texter; if I send him a text message, he calls me back).

While I soon set limits for my daughter due to her texting proclivities, I also quietly signed up for unlimited texting through my wireless carrier. But, how great it would have been to have had some objective guidance on the subject at the time.”

It’s for parents like Carol that NCL, through an educational grant from TracFone Wireless, has produced a new consumer guide for parents of tweens getting their child’s first cell phones.

When considering a tween’s first cell phone, parents have a number of important considerations to keep I mind. For example, an older teenager is likely to be using their phone to stay in touch while at an after-school job. On the other hand, a tween is less likely to be roaming far from home on their own, needing a phone only to call Mom for a ride home from soccer practice.

Older teens are more likely to be riding in cars with other teens, so a serious discussion about texting-while-driving will likely be in the cards. Pre-teens probably won’t find themselves without an adult in a car, but they do take their phones with them while on two wheels, so texting-while-biking should be a topic of discussion. Tweens also may not have had as much practice in taking care of their own personal (and expensive!) electronics as older teens.

To help parents with these and other issues, NCL’s new guide contains a wealth of tips for parents for figuring out why (or even if) your tween needs a cell phone, sorting through the vast universe of handsets and service plans and setting “rules of the road” for responsible use.

NCL statement on USDA’s announcement to regulate six additional strains of E. coli – National Consumers League

September 13, 2011

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

Washington—The National Consumers League has issued the following statement regarding today’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announcement:

“The National Consumers League applauds USDA’s announcement that the agency will add six strains of non-0157 shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), known as “the Big Six” to its list of adulterants.

Foodborne illness impacts 1 in 6 Americans annually, leading to over 120,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), E. coli is a major source of illness and non-0157 STECs account for nearly two-thirds of E. coli infections.

USDA’s announcement means that American consumers will now be protected from “the Big Six” for the first time. These measures will ensure that the U.S. food supply is even safer in coming years. The National Consumers League, which has worked in concert with other consumer groups in support of this measure, commends the USDA on its decision to regulate these dangerous strains of E. coli.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL statement on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks – National Consumers League

September 11, 2011

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League posted this statement on the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States.

“The National Consumers League pays tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks on the United States. On this solemn 10 year anniversary of the unspeakable series of terrorist attacks on the United States, the NCL joins with our fellow Americans in mourning the loss of so many innocent men, women and children.

The forces of evil who orchestrated this despicable attack were motivated by a contempt for the democracy we hold so dear in the United States, and for a way of life that respects and protects the rights of all people. We also acknowledge the many first responders – police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical teams – many of whom were public employees – who lost their lives rushing into burning buildings trying to save the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

We join with President Obama – who spoke at Washington’s Kennedy Center tribute this evening- in redoubling our commitment to democratic ideals, and in paying tribute to the thousands of Americans, and their surviving families, who died 10 years ago in the terrorist attacks on the United States. “


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Welcome to the 2011-2012 LifeSmarts program year! – National Consumers League

By Lisa Hertzberg, LifeSmarts Program Director

The pencils are sharpened, the new tennis shoes are squeezing the toes, and students across the country are primed to learn about consumer issues and tackle NCL’s competition about real-life: LifeSmarts.

LifeSmarts introduces middle school and high school students to real-world knowledge they can use now. We quiz them about workers’ rights, managing money, eating well, using technology, and much more.

Students may begin competing today!  Students can practice using the vast array of consumer resources available at lifesmarts.org, including practice quizzes.

Highlights at lifesmarts.org include:

  • TeamSmarts: Monthly 100-question quizzes focus on one topic area. Teams of students can work together and test their smarts against other teams from across the country. Prizes go to the top LifeSmarts and FCCLA teams each month. To warm up, try the practice quiz first (password: practice)

We are excited to kick-off the new LifeSmarts program year today! We expect it will be our best year yet. Join us!

LifeSmarts launches 2011-2012 program year at lifesmarts.org – National Consumers League

September 12, 2011

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

Washington, DC—The 2011-2012 LifeSmarts season is officially underway this week, with a new competition year going live at the program’s online home, www.lifesmarts.org, along with a variety of new resources for adult and youth participants. LifeSmarts is an educational competition run by the National Consumers League that tests middle school and high school students nationwide on real-life consumer issues through online quizzes and live contests. It culminates in the annual national LifeSmarts championship, where winning teams and individuals are awarded academic scholarships and prizes.

“We’re thrilled to be launching the 18th year of LifeSmarts,” said Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “LifeSmarts delivers real-world knowledge to students and allows them to shine in competitions where they demonstrate all that they have learned,” said Hertzberg. “It also provides thousands of teachers across the country access to much-needed consumer curriculum, which they unfortunately often aren’t getting elsewhere.”

Over the years, LifeSmarts has steadily grown in numbers of student and adult participants, state partnerships, and corporate sponsorships. In the most recent season, an estimated 100,000 students and teachers across the country answered more than 3.5 million LifeSmarts questions.

“As the consumer marketplace has become more challenging to navigate, LifeSmarts content is keeping up, preparing our teens and tweens to become the next generation of smart consumers and workers,” Hertzberg said.

LifeSmarts provides participants with practical advice and information on consumer issues ranging from personal finance and health and safety to the environment, technology, and consumer rights and responsibilities. Starting online each fall, the competition progresses to live state play-offs, and then builds to a high-spirited National Championship, which will be held in 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At last year’s national competition held in Hollywood, California, students on teams from 32 states competed over the course of four days. In the final match, the state champion team from Nickerson High School, Kansas, was crowned the 2011 national champs, beating out the team from New Hampshire.

NCL partners with coordinators in more than 30 states, including Better Business Bureaus, credit unions, state attorneys general and consumer protection agencies, State FCCLA organizations, Jump$tart Coalitions, and others, to staff and promote the program. Interested students and adults can visit the LifeSmarts Web site to connect with the program in their state.

“The National Consumers League’s mission is to inspire confidence and safety in the marketplace,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “The LifeSmarts program, our consumer education initiative for youth, fosters students’ understanding of consumer issues and provides them with real-world knowledge they will need to take charge of their lives.”

New this fall at www.lifesmarts.org are dozens of up-to-the-minute teaching resources for coaches, including innovative lessons housed within the LifeSmarts U virtual campus, daily practice quizzes, question-of-the-day calendars, and more, all utilizing thousands of new competition questions.

Major LifeSmarts contributors include Visa, Experian, Toyota Financial Services, Western Union, American Express, American Century Investments Foundation, Bridgestone Retail Operations, LLC, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, TracFone Wireless, Inc., and others. To see a full list of current LifeSmarts contributors, visit www.lifesmarts.org.

To test your LifeSmarts, take a sample quiz at https://start.lifesmarts.org/. From there, click on “Daily Quiz” to get started.


About the National Consumers League and LifeSmarts

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

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

We must remember…‘Invisible’ workers of 9/11 – National Consumers League

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

In a time when the union rights of public employees are under constant attack, when school teachers have to fight for their healthcare benefits and public works jobs are being slashed, we need to remember the time, sacrifice and importance of work these employees do. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we remember and honor the ones we lost, the ones who survived and the ones fighting to bring those responsible to justice. We also need to remember those ‘invisible’ workers who answered the call and did what they could on that awful day and the days following.

Greg Sargent, of the Washington Post’s Plum Line, wrote, “Dozens upon dozens of workers responded to the disaster with real grit and heroism, undertaking the grueling task of cleaning up the mess, digging through the rubble for the injured and the dead, sometimes searching for their own colleagues and friends, for days and days on end, under unspeakably stressful and wrenching conditions.”

AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has created a video that highlights the work public employees did on that day at Ground Zero. It captures something fundamental about 9/11 that’s been mostly forgotten:


“We were digging by hand,” recalls Patrick Bahnken, an emergency medical technician with the D.C. 37 Local 2507. “You’re talking 200 plus story buildings, and we’re digging it out by hand. And I knew that a large number of people that I’d be carrying out or looking for or trying to help, were people that I knew. And that made it very difficult. But again, you’re committed to going for those who would have come for you.”

“They wanted to do their job,” recalls Halloveen Brightly, a police communications specialist with the D.C. 37 Local 1549. “I mean, really wanted to go there and help those people. And you can hear it. I think we worked together really well that day. I hope that whatever they needed from me at that last time, I gave it to them. That’s all.”

According to AFSCME, some 343 firefighters and 60 police officers died as a result of 9/11 and many thousands more remain sick from respiratory ailments attributed to the disaster.

It’s time to stop the attacks on public employees. It’s time to start remembering and honoring the fundamental work these public employees do everyday.

Tweens and cell phones: What parents need to know during back-to-school season – National Consumers League

September 8, 2011

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

Washington, DC — With school back in session across the country and the flurry of purchases that often entails, many parents may be in the market for a cell phone for their teenager. However, the age that children are getting their first cell phones is trending earlier in recent years, with many pre-teens entering the cell phone market even before high school. Helping parents navigate the complex world of a tween’s first cell phone is the goal of a new consumer guide released today by the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer organization.

The guide is available online at www.nclnet.org/technology.  It provides a range of tips to help parents choose between contract-based and prepaid services, manage data and texting costs, and set “rules of the road” for safe and smart tween phone use.

“Figuring out how to manage a child’s use of one of these high-tech gadgets can often require the skills of a seasoned diplomat, the steely nerve of a tightrope walker and the tech savvy of a Silicon Valley computer geek,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “Giving parents clear advice on how to handle a tween’s first phone is why we put this guide together.”

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 5 percent of 16-year-olds say that they received their first cell phone at age 11 or before. Conversely, 57 percent of 12-year-olds report getting their first phone that young. According to a 2007 study by C&R Research, 46 percent of children ages 9-11 and 65 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds own a cell phone.

“Kids used to get their first phone as they were making the transition from middle school to high school,” said Greenberg. “But the market for first-time cell phones is trending younger, and we want to help parents understand and manage the unique challenges of providing their younger children with a cell phone strategy that makes sense for their family.”

NCL’s new guide is focused on helping tweens’ parents with easy-to-use tips that help them pre-plan for the shopping experience, set expectations with a tween before a phone is purchased, narrow down their cell phone choices, and manage their tweens’ usage once the phone is purchased.

Key tips include:

  • Texting is one of the biggest cost tweens’ parents should account for.  Consider a larger bucket of texts (or unlimited texts) to avoid costly pay-as-you-go texting rates.
  • However, consider limiting the tween’s allotment of text messages if you are concerned about inappropriate texting.  Recent research suggests that limiting texts messages relates to lower levels of inappropriate or dangerous texting behavior.
  • Take your tween with you when shopping so they can test different phones, but consider buying online to take advantage of online-only deals.
  • Make sure to set a monthly cell phone budget, and discuss acceptable use of the phone so that your tween knows who they can and can’t call or text.

NCL’s tween cell phone consumer guide was made possible thanks to an unrestricted educational grant from TracFone Wireless.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League is America’s pioneering consumer organization, dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of workers and consumers in American and abroad. To learn more, please visit www.nclnet.org.

Labor Day is too often a missed opportunity – National Consumers League

By NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg

This weekend we celebrated Labor Day. This should be a time to look back on the struggles of the American worker to achieve the rights and protections that too many of us take for granted today – an 8 hour day, an expectation of safe working conditions, children in school and not at a work site, minimum wage law protections, pay for overtime work, workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Each one of those protections was hard-won.

I think all of us – including the labor movement – could do a far better job of using Labor Day Weekend as a “teaching moment.” What’s the history of the union movement in this country? Why do we need unions? How many workers died in violent confrontations with owners of factories, mills and coal mines? Conditions were dangerous and the pay was low. In 1907, one coal mining accident in West Virginia killed 361 miners.

How about the women who worked in laundries at the turn of the century, (see the case brought by NCL – Muller vs. Oregon against laundry owner Curt Muller limiting the hours women could be forced to work) standing all day with few breaks, lifting soaking wet towels and sheets whose weight caused back and joint injuries, some of them pregnant or suffering chronic illnesses? Or African Americans who stood for 12 to 14 hours a day, often next to their children in a foot of water at canneries? Child labor was scandalous, with children as young as five and six going to work in mills and mines in America only 100 years ago.

I heard Teamsters President James Hoffa speaking over the weekend on the importance of good jobs with good benefits bringing us a middle class in America that can enjoy the fruits of our labor. He called Apple – the company – unpatriotic because they ship jobs overseas and sell their products here to affluent Americans. I see his point.

And sadly today, the middle class jobs that labor union membership can bring have dwindled, as has union membership. Union busting – of the kind we’ve seen with Boeing moving its operations from Washington State –a union friendly place, to South Carolina – an anti-union state, and attacks on the National Labor Relations Board in Congress are at a fever pitch.

But sorry to say we heard precious little about why unions came about over the weekend. That should change – NCL and others must be leaders in having that conversation and continuing to push for good jobs, good benefits and keeping jobs in the hands of the most productive and well-educated workforce in the world – U.S. workers.

Helping the exploited students at the Hershey plant – National Consumers League

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

As the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy group, who’s been protecting and promoting social and economic justice for workers and consumers, we were disturbed to learn about the exploitation the J-1 visa students experienced at a Hershey packing facility.  Since then we’ve sent a letter to the Hershey Company, partnered with various unions and explored ways to ensure that these terrible acts of exploitation are never repeated.
The International Union of Food Workers wrote a wonderful letter detailing the work unions have been doing to help the J-1 students and offer solutions to the Hershey staffing problem. Click here to read it.

Resale Price Maintenance should be illegal – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I recently  received a call from a staffer for Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) who has been a leader in opposing a practice that organizations like ours regard as very anti-consumer: “Resale Price Maintenance (RPM).” RPM is the practice whereby a manufacturer and its distributors agree that the latter will sell the former’s product at certain prices (resale price maintenance), at or above a price floor  (minimum resale price maintenance) or at or below a price ceiling (maximum resale price maintenance). If a reseller refuses to maintain the price set by the retailer, either openly or covertly, the manufacturer may stop doing business with it.

In 2009 five groups – NCL, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, American Antitrust Institute and US PIRG – asked Congress to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court case, Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc vs. PSKS, Inc. that made RPM legal. RPM used to be “per se” illegal under the antitrust laws but this case overturned 100 years of precedent.

Resale price maintenance prevents resellers from competing too fiercely on price. According to Wikipedia, RPM exists because: “ resellers worry it could drive down profits for themselves as well as the manufacturer. Some argue that the manufacturer may do this because it wishes to keep resellers profitable, and thus keeping the manufacturer profitable. Others contend that minimum resale price maintenance, for instance, overcomes a failure in the market for distributional services by ensuring that distributors who invest in promoting the manufacturer’s product are able to recoup the additional costs of such promotion in the price they charge consumers. Some manufacturers also defend resale price maintenance by saying it ensures fair returns, both for manufacturer and reseller and that governments do not have the right to interfere with freedom to make contracts.”

The 2009 consumer letter to Congress said that “it is unequivocal that RPM agreements raise consumer prices, prevent efficient retailers from passing on the benefits of their lower costs to consumers, and tend to retard the development of new forms of retailing. At the same time, the purported benefits to consumers of RPM agreements are dubious and even if such benefits exist, they can be achieved by less restrictive business practices.”

These words are true today, as they were in 2009 when we wrote the original letter. We urge members of Congress to overturn this unfortunate Supreme Court decision and applaud Congressman Hank Johnson for renewing his efforts to make RPM illegal once again.