Advocates mourn passing of Virginia Knauer – National Consumers League

October 31, 2011

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League mourns the death this month of Virginia Knauer, who served as head of the Office of Consumer Affairs under Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan. Knauer was a friend and colleague of the League, and she spoke out on a range of consumer issues that are as important today as they were in 1969 when she was appointed.

“Ginny Knauer was an important ally in the fight for consumer protection. She called for consumers to have the right to bring class-action suits, not just in states, but in federal courts; she argued for a comprehensive system of product safety standards and simpler language in product warranties,” said Jane King, NCL’s Board Chair. “She was ahead of her time.”

Anna Flores, who serves on NCL’s Board of Directors and worked with the staff at the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, said about Knauer: “She used the bully pulpit on behalf of consumers in speeches around the country—including her observation that ‘the consumer is getting fed up with shoddy material, poor quality, unsafe products, bad service, weak warranties, lack of adequate information’. Her voice on behalf of consumers was very important; indeed, this is a voice that is sorely missing in today’s political discourse.”

Knauer called herself a “pipeline to the President for consumers”  and she certainly was. She served as spokeswoman for consumer rights and protections during an important period in American history. While NCL is saddened by the passing of Virginia Knauer, the League gratefully acknowledges Knauer’s unflinching advocacy on behalf of consumers.


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

Nixon-era consumer advocate dies – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This week a consumer advocate who I admired greatly and who often attended heavily Democratic consumer conferences—even though she had worked for Richard Nixon—died. Her name was Virginia Knauer, and I regarded her as a friend and colleague. She was appointed to the post of Office of Consumer Affairs under President Richard Nixon in 1969, filling in a slot created by Nixon’s predecessor Lyndon Johnson. I introduced her a few times when I was on panels at consumer conferences and few in the audience remembered her.

Knauer won over critics and advocated for things consumers support now but that, sadly, no Republican in Congress today would ever support: she wanted consumers to have the right to bring class-action suits, not just in state, but in federal courts; she argued for a comprehensive system of product safety standards and simpler language in product warranties.

Knauer spoke her mind with her more conservative colleagues. She insisted that the fat content of hot dogs not exceed 30 percent, rather than 33 percent. Nixon took her side because, as he told her, “I’m on a low-cholesterol diet myself!”

In her day she was regarded by Ralph Nader and Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT) as without clout or power. They were right that she couldn’t make many of the legislative changes they sought, but her use of the bully pulpit on behalf of consumers in speeches around the country—including her common refrain that “the consumer is getting fed up with shoddy material, poor quality, unsafe products, bad service, weak warranties, lack of adequate information…” was very important; indeed, this is a voice that is sorely missing in today’s in political discourse.

Ginny Knauer helped to create the Federal Consumer Information Center to distribute low-cost consumer publications, a program that goes on today and that NCL uses to get our materials out.

Knauer called herself a “pipeline to the President for consumers.” We could use more of those people today. If only our own President Obama would appoint someone to the post Ginny Knauer held! The world would be a better place for consumers.

Stock up on worker-friendly treats this Halloween – National Consumers League

October 28, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (2020 835-3323,

Washington, DC—The nation’s oldest consumer and worker advocacy organization is calling on parents stocking up on Halloween treats this weekend to make worker-friendly purchases. The National Consumers League, the Washington, DC-based consumer and worker’s rights organization, has announced an effort to fill trick-or-treaters’ bags with union-made candy.

“In just a few days, children across the country will cheerfully announce their presence at doorways hoping to receive sweet treats. While Halloween certainly belongs to kids, we adults, get to make some decisions too. This year, we’re calling on parents to be smart about the candy they purchase and hand out, find out if it’s made by unionized workers who are paid a fair wage,” said Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft.

A few labor-friendly candy manufactures include Nestle, Ghiradelli Chocolates, Hershey, Gimbals Fine Candies, Just Born, Necco, Nabisco, and Keebler. One fly in the ointment is Hershey, which was many union workers but had more than its fair share of wage violations this year. From the exploitation of foreign J-1 visa student workers in its packing facility to the second class-action lawsuit being filed against the company for failing to pay its employees for overtime, Hershey’s domestic labor problems are not the company’s only issue.

Hershey has also been criticized by child labor advocates who have organized a “No Hershey’s Halloween,” because the company sources cocoa to make chocolate from West Africa where there are up to two million children working under conditions considered to be among the “worst forms of child labor.” While many chocolate companies have taken steps to trace their cocoa purchasing to reduce child labor from their supply chains, the Hershey Company lags behind its competitors.

At Union Plus, a Web site established by the AFL-CIO to provide consumer benefits to members and retirees of participating labor unions, consumers can view a list of approved candy choices provided by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM); snack foods by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); or fruit and nuts from members of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

“NCL is happy to join with union allies and working families to encourage consumers to vote with their pocketbooks and support worker-friendly candy manufacturers this Halloween,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director.


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

Buy worker-friendly treats this Halloween – National Consumers League

Trick or treat? Soon children all across the country will cheerfully announce their presence at doorways hoping to receive sweet treats. While Halloween certainly belongs to kids, we adults, get to make some decisions too – costumes being weather- and age-appropriate and what kind of candy to stock for the big night. For costume decisions, we base it on weather conditions (how cold and wet will it be?) and the age of the kids (is a five-year-old too young to go as Snooki or Charlie Sheen?). But for candy, what should we look for?

This year, consumers can check out this list of union-made candy to rest assured that the majority of the companies listed are paying their workers a fair wage and decent benefits.

Unfortunately, one major union-made candy producer is, of late, not treating their workers so well. The Hershey Company has had more than its fair share of wage violations this year. Ranging from the exploitation of J-1 visa student workers from overseas working in its packing facility to the second class-action lawsuit being filed against the company for failing to pay its employees for overtime, Hershey has engaged in unethical and possibly illegal examples of wage theft.

With the economy still struggling to recover and Americans trying to keep their heads above water, advocates are urging consumers to make worker-friendly choices when spending money on candy for Halloween celebrations.

A good day for workers rights in California – National Consumers League

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

October 9 was not only a good day in California history, but also a good day in labor history, for Governor Jerry Brown signed some great workers’ rights bills into law. He signed the Wage Theft Prevention Act (AB 469), the Employee Classification Act (SB 459), a farm workers’ right bill (AB 243) and many others. These laws represent huge steps forward in the battle to protect workers’ rights in a difficult political climate.

While the majority in House of Representatives is looking to erode workers’ rights in favor of corporate interests, often under the mantle of ending “job killing regulations,” it’s encouraging to see three workers’ rights bills become law in a state that, in 2009, was the world’s eighth largest economy.

These laws strive to prevent wage theft, strengthen existing laws protecting workers’ rights and increase penalties on employers caught cheating their employees. Some of the main points of each of the new laws:

The Wage Theft Prevention Act (AB 469):

  • Employers are to provide workers, at the time they’re hired, a written disclosure of their basic terms of employment – the pay rate, the pay day & the name and address of the legal employer
  • Strengthens misdemeanor criminal penalties for employers who willfully fail to pay wages due in 90 days after final judgment
  • Allows a worker to recover attorney’s fees to enforce a court judgment for unpaid wages

The Employee Classification Act (SB 459):

  • Makes it unlawful for any person or employer to engage in willful employee misclassification – classifying an employee as an independent contractor rather than an employee
  • Makes it unlawful to charge any fees or make any deductions in a worker’s paycheck for expenses such as space rental, services, repairs, goods or materials, where such deductions would have been unlawful had the worker been classified as an employee
  • Increases penalties that can be assessed against any employer for willful employee misclassification.
  • Requires employers who have been found to have committed employee misclassification to display a notice to its employees and the general public on their website and/or each location where it occurred

One of many farm workers’ rights bills signed into law was Assembly Bill 243 that requires farm labor contractors to disclose on workers’ pay stubs the name and address of the legal entity that secured the farm labor contractor’s services. Many farm workers do not know who their legal employer is nor whom they should be addressing with employment and payment issues.

These three laws are good practical examples of what can happen on a state level since the federal government is slower to move and faces larger lobbying efforts by big business and industry. Other state governments should take notice of these workers’ rights victories and try passing similar laws in their states.

NCL testimony at the FDA on Prescription Drug User Fee Act – National Consumers League

October 24, 2011


Docket No. FDA-2010-N-0128

Public hearing statement on re-authorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act by Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Good morning. On behalf of the National Consumers League (NCL), I would like to thank you for the invitation to share a consumer-oriented perspective on proposed recommendations for the re-authorization of the prescription drug user fee act (PDUFA 5).

Established in 1899, NCL is the nation’s oldest nonprofit consumer education and advocacy organization. NCL provides government, businesses, and other organizations with the consumer’s perspective on numerous policy issues including child labor, privacy, food safety, and medication safety and information. From the first Pure Food and Drugs Act passed in 1906 to the more recent FDA Modernization Act, NCL has been working – often alongside the Agency – to ensure that the public is adequately represented and protected, and that our medications are safe and effective.

It is in this context that NCL expresses concern that many of the recommendations for this re-authorization of PDUFA are focused on reducing perceived barriers to new drug approvals rather than on protecting and promoting the health of patients and consumers by ensuring access to safe and effective medications. The other consumer groups represented on this panel, all members of the Patient, Consumer and Public Health Coalition, also share this overriding concern.

NCL believes that we should have a drug approval process that provides timely access to safe and effective drugs while reducing exposure to harmful drugs that pose undue risk. We recognize that PDUFA must balance the needs of consumers who are concerned about serious side effects with the concerns of patients who may be facing a life-threatening illness where time is of the essence. Thus, while it is important to have an efficient and timely approval process, there is still, in our view, too little emphasis on performance goals aimed at improving the safety and efficacy of drugs.

We continue to be concerned that the public has too little opportunity to fully engage in the PDUFA process. While we appreciate the FDA’s efforts to keep stakeholders informed about the negotiations and to solicit our input on the proposals under discussion, consumer and patient groups were not present during the negotiations, and, as a result, several patient safety and consumer protection initiatives that were put forward were never discussed in the formal dialogue with industry. We believe that the PDUFA proposal should not be move forward without these additional provisions. I will be addressing several of those issues today.

1. Direct to Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs

NCL has long been interested in ensuring that consumers receive accurate and useful information about their healthcare, including information about the safe and effective use of prescription drugs. With over four billion dollars spent a year on DTC ads [1] and over 91% of Americans reporting that they have seen or heard advertisements for prescription drugs[2], DTC ads have become an integral part of communicating information on prescription drugs. Consumers are continually exposed to these ads, and it is imperative that the FDA have the staff and resources to ensure the ads are accurate and not misleading BEFORE they reach the public.

As we have mentioned in previous testimony before the FDA, we recommend that the agency be granted the authority to require that all DTC ads undergo review before public dissemination. This would enable agency staff to work with industry to revise materials where needed so that misleading information does not reach consumers. Without the authority to make review a condition of broadcasting, product sponsors have no incentive to submit their ads for agency review. NCL urges the FDA to make the review of ads for newly approved drugs a top priority. FDA should consider placing a moratorium on all DTC advertising for new drugs, especially those deemed to have inadequate safety information. Based on available safety data, the agency could be given latitude in determining the appropriate length of the moratorium on a product-by-product basis. NCL would support adding a third “provisional” status for some new drugs, which would allow limited exposure of a product to appropriate patients. This would mitigate the likelihood of inappropriate use and over-exposure while additional post-approval safety data collection is ongoing.

In order to conduct such oversight of DTC advertising, we suggest that user fees be allocated to support hiring of additional staff to review ads and respond to industry feedback in a timely fashion. There is currently a dangerous imbalance between the volume of DTC advertising and the resources available for monitoring and reviewing the advertisements. This imbalance becomes even greater when considering the growing number of Internet and social media advertising for prescription drugs. As consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for health information, it will be more important than ever for FDA to have the resources to ensure that consumers receive balanced information about the drugs advertised to them

2. Adverse Event Reporting and Medwatch

Because reports of adverse events from consumers and healthcare professionals may be the first indication of a drug’s safety problem, it important that consumers are able to easily report any adverse events with medical products, and that FDA is able to capture and act upon that information. We are encouraged by the improvements that FDA is making to the Medwatch form for consumers. If FDA wants to encourage voluntary consumer reporting of adverse events, the Agency must ensure that reporting mechanisms are consumer-friendly. While we support FDA’s revisions of the Medwatch form, those revisions will fail to address the fact that the complaints entered into Medwatch are rarely used because of how the information is captured by the FDA. We understand that the information electronically collected on Medwatch is not able to be easily transferred to a usable electronic format so that any trends can be easily identified. The Medwatch system is not an active surveillance system; it is, in fact a passive program. We suggest that these issues be resolved so that Medwatch can effectively serve as an early warning system in a larger post-market safety surveillance system

3. Off-Label Prescribing


While off label use of medications can sometimes be beneficial, the majority of medications so prescribed have no valid scientific evidence in support of such prescribing.[3] A recent review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that while antipsychotic drugs are used for many off label indications, for the majority of the medications there was little evidence of benefits, and in some cases there are serious adverse effects.[4] From a consumer perspective, many people are likely unaware they are even being prescribed off label drugs. Consumers should be informed about the following if they are prescribed drugs off label:

  • Availability of alternatives
  • Body of evidence supporting product use
  • Approval status/use in other countries
  • Implications for insurance coverage

Finally, we urge that under PDUFA V funds be directed to examining the safety of off- label prescribing, and the implications of lack of consumer awareness and understanding of the practice.

In conclusion, we believe the proposed recommendations must do more to ensure the safety of patient and consumers, and the scientific integrity of the drug review process. Thank you for giving the National Consumers League the opportunity to present our views on this important hearing related to the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.


[1] Lian, Bryan, et al, “Direct to Consumer Advertising with Interactive Internet Media”, JAMA vol. 305, no. 8, February 23, 2011.

[2] Kaiser Public Opinion Spotlight, “Public and Physician Views on Direct-to-Consumers Prescription Drug Advertising” at

[3] Radley, et al. (2006) “Off-label Prescribing Among Office-Based Physicians,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 166: 1021-1026.

[4] AHRQ Effective Health Care Program, “Off-Label Use of Atypical Antipsychotics: An Update,” Comparative Effectiveness Review Number 43 (2011).

Happy Food Day! – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Today is the first Food Day, a grassroots event organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT), both long-term supporters of healthy eating and the federal government’s nutrition programs, are Honorary Co-Chairs of the event.

Food Day is founded on six basic principles:

  • Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  • Support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  • Protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms
  • Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  • Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Because Food Day is based on grassroots organizing, there are Food Day events being held all over the country today (find some in your area).  Whether you attend a restaurant serving up a special Food Day menu, play a Food Day game or simply cook a special meal for your family at home, everyone can participate in Food Day. It is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the important role that healthy, wholesome, affordable food plays in the lives of each one of us. Happy Food Day!

LifeSmarts, Visa score with Financial Football partnership – National Consumers League

By Brandi Williams, LifeSmarts Program Manager

I admit it – I don’t know anything about football. When my colleagues talk about “the big game” over the weekend, or “that really awesome play” from last night’s sporting event, I struggle  to remember if the Washington Cardinals are a baseball or basketball team. I just nod, pretend to understand the sports-related conversation, and hope no one realizes it’s  all completely over my head.

So when I learned about Financial Football, Visa Inc.’s financial literacy video game, I was a little apprehensive. Actually, I was a lot apprehensive. I love video games, but I’m more of a “tap all the buttons and hope it turns into a combo” kind of player, so the idea of playing a video game that involved sports was intimidating. But I forged ahead, reminding myself that Financial Football, like NCL’s LifeSmarts program, while designed as a competition, was also meant to be fun.  And it was! After a few minutes, I was well beyond the confusion and, instead, actually enjoying the game.

That was a few years ago. Earlier this year, when Visa Inc. partnered with the National Consumers League to launch a financial literacy campaign in Washington, DC, I was super excited. After all, back in 2008 the DC Council passed legislation to require financial literacy education in DC public high schools, and Financial Football, like NCL’s LifeSmarts program, uses a fun and fast-paced competition set-up to educate teens about financial literacy issues and promote smart money-management skills.

With support from DC’s Executive Office of the Mayor and NFL’s Washington Redskins, NCL and Visa Inc. launched the campaign in DC on October 18 at Wilson High School with a live game of Financial Football. Mayor Vincent Gray and Washington Redskin Brian Orakpo led a team of 20 student athletes against a second team of 20 student athletes led by Gail Hillebrand, Associate Director of Consumer Education and Engagement for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Josh Wright, Acting Director for the Office of Financial Education and Financial Access in the Department of the Treasury.

The students were wary at first, but Coaches Gray, Orakpo, Hillebrand and Wright were so personable and friendly, and having such a great time themselves, that the students were immediately put at ease, and soon enough the teams were huddling to discuss 529 plans, telemarketers, checking accounts and auto insurance, with high-fives and shouts of “SCORE!” when the correct answer was given. Jason Alderman, Senior Director of Global Financial Education at Visa Inc., served as the dynamic quiz-master/referee and not only did he keep the game moving forward quickly, he kept the kids smiling and laughing, and encouraged them to discuss the questions and ask for guidance from their adult coaches. I knew the importance of financial literacy was getting through to these kids when one young man whispered to Mayor Gray, “Can you explain to me what a whistle-blower is?”

Despite the game’s football theme, it was still a simple format to follow – and if someone completely ignorant of sports (like me) can follow along, then anyone can – making Financial Football the perfect complement to the LifeSmarts program and a great resource for Personal Finance topics. In fact, NCL’s partnership with Visa Inc. is allowing LifeSmarts to expand its free Personal Finance educational materials.

I’d say this is a win-win for everyone. Goal!

Or maybe I meant touchdown?

NCL statement on IOM’s front-of-package labeling recommendations – National Consumers League

October 20, 2011

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

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League (NCL) has released the following statement regarding the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) proposal for front-of-package labeling:

“The National Consumers League applauds a report issued today from the IOM on Front-of-Package labeling, entitled ‘Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices.’ The IOM suggests implementing a simple point system for front-of-package labeling, with points given for the levels of sugar, salt, and fat in an item, with scores ranging from zero (the least healthy) to three (the most healthy).

NCL believes the report is a common-sense approach to front-of-package labeling. This system would provide consumers with clear, simple information which would allow them to compare foods at the grocery store and make healthy choices more easily. NCL urges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to examine the IOM’s proposal and implement a consumer friendly front-of-package labeling requirement.”


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

Leading consumer, worker advocates honored at 2011 Trumpeter Awards Dinner – National Consumers League

Each year, the National Consumers League honors outstanding individuals whose hard work and dedication has resulted in improving the lives of consumers and workers throughout the country. For more than 30 years, the Trumpeter Award has recognized leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and for the rights of consumers. (View a photo album of this year’s awards celebration.)

“The Trumpeter Award is NCL’s highest honor, given to leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and for the rights of consumers. No one fits that description better than Dr. Peggy Hamburg and Randi Weingarten,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Their dedication to improving the quality of life for workers and consumers in the United States has earned them this year’s Trumpeter Award.”

Randi Weingarten delivered a fiery address; noting that that the country is at a “crossroads” and issuing an inspiring call to action that received a standing ovation from the dinner audience.

“I’m honored to accept this Trumpeter Award, but a Trumpet Award is about voice,” said Weingarten. “I am up here to ask you, regardless of which arena you work in, to fight for Americans, fight for voice, fight for economic opportunity, fight for educational opportunity! That is our collective goal; that is what we need to do over the next several months!”

FDA Commissioner Dr. Peggy Hamburg, who was recently named the “21st Most Powerful Woman in the World” by Forbes Magazine, spent the evening reflecting on the FDA’s long-standing partnership with NCL.

“It’s so extraordinary to look back at the shared history of the National Consumers League and the FDA,” said Hamburg. “For over a hundred years, you have advocated for improved drug and food safety laws, understanding—which many don’t appreciate today—that consumer protections can only be built on a foundation of smart and sound regulation.”

Dr. Hamburg also acknowledged NCL’s critical role in helping pass landmark FDA legislation, from the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act to the more recent Food Safety and Modernization Act, and saluted the FDA and NCL’s century of “shared history, vision, and commitment to the mission of protecting and promoting the health and safety of the American people.”

NCL also honored Paheadra Robinson, Director of Consumer Protection at the Mississippi Center for Justice, with the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award, named for NCL’s early leader and awarded to grassroots consumer advocates. Robinson, a true community activist, has built a coalition aimed at abolishing predatory payday lending throughout the state of Mississippi and co-founded the Mississippi-based Fresh Start Foundation to provide direct financial aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The dinner featured speaking appearances by Ann F. Lewis, President of the No Limits Foundation; Jennifer Donelan, reporter with ABC7 / WJLA-TV; and Martha Bergmark, Founding President and CEO at the Mississippi Center for Justice.

A night of impassioned speakers and honorees reminded the diverse audience of labor unions, advocates, and industries what a trumpet is all about. Not a quiet instrument, the trumpet is used to sound warnings, mark celebrations, and announce the presence of special people; the 2011 Trumpeter Awards did all three.