Help protect American workers from on-the-job silica exposure – National Consumers League

Guest post by Scott Schneider, MS, CIH, Director of Occupational Safety and Health, Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America

Silica is not a new problem in the workplace. More than 80 years ago hundreds of workers died from acute silicosis digging the Gauley Bridge tunnel in West Virginia. Congressional hearings were held and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins held an investigation and declared that it was our duty to eliminate silicosis from the workplace. In the 1970’s the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed recommendations to reduce exposures to silica in the workplace yet it wasn’t until the 1990s when OSHA began to take action. The initiated a rule to reduce silica exposures and kicked off a campaign (”It’s Not Just Dust”) to increase awareness of the problem.

Over the years we have learned even more about the dangers of silica. Overexposure to silica not only causes silicosis, an irreversible, progressive lung disease, it is also associated with lung cancer, chronic renal disease and autoimmune disorders. An estimated 1.7 million U.S. workers are still exposed to this serious hazard. Public health experts estimate that 280 workers die each year from silicosis and thousands more develop silicosis as a result of workplace exposures

After many years work and delays OSHA finally sent a draft silica standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February 2011. OMB normally has 90 days to review a proposed regulation. As of next month, it will have held onto this proposal for two years. Each year of delay means additional thousands of workers will be exposed and at risk of illness or death.

Releasing the proposal and publishing it in the Federal Register is just the start of a very public process which includes OSHA public hearings and comment periods. The White House needs to release this standard for publication so OSHA can proceed with a rulemaking. Lives are at stake.

You can help by signing a petition on the White House Web site. The petition requires 25,000 signatures by February 11 to elicit a formal response from the White House. Please add your signature today to help us take this next step towards protecting workers from this serious hazard.

The National Consumers League adopts historic policy in support of immigration reform – National Consumers League

January 17, 2013

Contact: Carol McKay, NCL Communications (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC—The Board of the National Consumers League (NCL), established in 1899 to seek social and economic justice for workers and consumers, has adopted for the first time in its history a policy statement in support of broad immigration reforms. “We adopted this policy because when we reflected on NCL’s long history of fighting for the rights of workers and consumers and our ongoing work today, we realize that immigrants have been, and continue to be, the greatest targets of workplace and marketplace abuses,” said Esther Lopez,  an NCL board member representing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

NCL’s policy allows the organization to support many aspects of the immigration reform efforts embraced by many members of Congress and the Obama Administration.

Since its founding at the turn of the 20th Century, the National Consumers League has championed the interests of both consumers and workers. Many of NCL’s first successes focused on rights for workers, including minimum wage laws for women and child labor restrictions, and many of those workers were immigrants.  Many suffered from extreme poverty and immigrant children were often employed working long hours in dangerous conditions. NCL’s first leader, Florence Kelley once wrote, “We are infinitely cruel to the immigrants themselves in Lawrence, Little Falls, Pittsburg, Chicago, and the East Side, to say nothing of all the mines… Never in all history was anything more cruel than what we do about young immigrant girls.”

“Immigrants today in the US are exploited in the labor force and denied access to jobs, education and housing. Immigrants tend to be more frequent victims of wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and in some states in particular, oppressed by anti-immigrant laws and that puts them and their families in constant fear of deportation.  They also fall prey to consumer scams and frauds, and often bear the brunt of exploitive consumer policies in interactions with institutions like banks and insurance companies,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director.

NCL’s Board Chair, Anna Flores, noted, “America has always been a nation of immigrants.  NCL mission supports the creation of a modern, 21st century legal immigration system that reflects our legacy. Our policy in support of immigration reform is in keeping with that legacy.”

NCL’s Policy Statement is below:

  • NCL supports a principled, comprehensive immigration reform that treats all immigrants with respect and dignity, no matter their legal status in the United States.  NCL’s policy is below:
  • Renews our commitment to citizenship that fully integrates undocumented immigrants into our way of life, affirming our shared rights, protections and responsibilities  by providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.
  • Protects the sanctity of family by reducing the backlogs and keeping spouses, parents and children together.
  • Attracts the best and brightest skilled professionals to strengthen our economy,  create jobs, and build on the success of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and incorporates DREAMers,  young immigrants who are Americans but for a piece of paper, into mainstream life through a path to citizenship so that America benefits from their scholastic achievements and military service.
  • Ensures smart and effective enforcement that protects our borders, fosters commerce, and promotes the safe and legitimate movement of people and goods at our ports of entry.
  • Ends the exploitation of U.S. and immigrant workers by providing safe and legal avenues for foreign workers to fill legitimate workforce needs, and establishes a workable employment verification system that prevents unlawful employment.

NCL supports comprehensive immigration reform that reflects both the League’s  history and legacy  in support of workers and consumers, and our interest and values as Americans,  and is consistent with our nation’s commitment to fairness and equality.


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

Manti Te’o a victim of a romance scam? – National Consumers League

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

The bizarre tale of Manti Te’o’s relationship with a fictitious person going by the name of “Lennay Kekua,” has captivated more than just the sports world over the past 24 hours.  While many of the details of the episode remain unclear, Te’o’s story bears many of the hallmarks of the romance/friendship scam complaints that NCL’s Fraud Center receives on a regular basis. This type of fraud is especially attractive to scammers for one simple reason: it pays. In 2011, victims of these scams reported losing an average of $5,500, making romance/friendship scams the single most costly type of scam reported to NCL. These types of scams were the 7th most-reported scam to NCL in 2011.

Manti Te’o’s story bears many of the hallmarks of romance/friendship scams reported to NCL, including:

  • The relationship is exclusively virtual – It has been reported that Te’o never met “Lennay Kekua” in person. Most of their interactions were apparently over the Internet or via telephone calls. Numerous in-person meetings were reportedly arranged, but “Kekua” never arrived.
  • Use of others’ photos to gain trust – Reportedly, the perpetrator of the scam against Te’o used photos pulled from another person’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. This is a common tactic used by romance/friendship scammers to make their online persona more believable and thereby gain the victim’s trust.
  • “Tragic” event – “Kekua” told Te’o that she had been in serious car accident and then discovered that she had contracted leukemia. In the complaints that NCL receives about romance/friendship scams, it is not unusual that a supposedly “tragic” event is reported as an excuse to ask for money from the victim (often for fictitious “hospital bills”).

The goal of most fraudsters in romance/friendship scams is to gain the trust of their mark and eventually persuade them to send money. It is unknown whether Te’o ever sent money to the fictitious “Lennay Kekua.” However, it seems plausible that a scammer who discovered that their mark was highly-touted NFL prospect would continue to string the victim along even if the scammer was not getting paid immediately.

Much of the sad story of Manti Te’o and “Lennay Kekua” remains to be told. More details are sure to emerge in the coming days and weeks.  What this episode does illustrate is that no one, not even star football players, is immune to being taken in by skilled scammers.

Hopefully, the publicity this story generates will give other victims of these types of scams the courage to report these scams. Unfortunately, fraud is notoriously underreported, and in the case of romance/friendship scams likely even more so. Victims are understandably embarrassed and often go to great lengths to avoid facing the reality of the crime. Only by reporting the fraud can the criminal perpetrating these be brought to justice. To report a romance/friendship scam or another other instance of fraud, use NCL’s secure online complaint form. Complaints received by NCL are shared with our network of more than 90 federal, state, local and international law enforcement and consumer protection partners.

Survey: Consumers support improved conditions for restaurant workers – National Consumers League

January 16, 2013

Contact: Carol McKay, NCL Communications (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC—American consumers overwhelmingly support better conditions for restaurant workers, according to a new survey conducted by ORC International for the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneer consumer organization. In an industry that is commonly characterized by anti-worker policies, including incidents of wage theft, a lack of paid sick days, and a poverty-level minimum wage that hasn’t increased in more than 20 years, restaurant workers—and what they experience behind the scenes—are, in fact, a concern for dining patrons.

“Consumers have spoken very clearly in overwhelming support for workers who serve them at dining establishments, how much they are earning, and whether they are forced to come to work when sick,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “And they should. It’s not just a matter of compassion; it’s a matter of public health.”

At an event in Washington, DC today, NCL released the survey’s findings and, teaming up with ROC United and ROC United DC, convened a discussion with restaurant workers and restaurant owners to shine a light on the conditions, pay, and benefits of restaurant workers and showcase the successful business models of restaurateurs who do provide a more fair and equitable workplace.

Restaurant workers from the Washington, DC area gave an insider’s view on the industry and how workers are often exploited. Local DC area restaurant owners and chefs, including Andy Shallal of Busboys & Poets and Chef Tate of Inspire BBQ, shared insights about how management can provide a livable wage and healthy environment while being commercially successful.

“We’re very grateful to the National Consumers League and consumers in general for appreciating the struggles of restaurant workers and wanting to see change in this industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder of ROC United. “Together, workers, consumers, and responsible employers can produce a better restaurant industry and dining experience for everyone.”

Survey findings: Paid sick days

Consumers overwhelmingly (92 percent) believe that it’s very important or important that the servers and cooks in the restaurants they frequent do not cook or serve while sick. Given 2011 research by ROC that found that 90 percent of restaurant workers reported not having paid sick days, there is a major disconnect between consumer expectations and industry realities. Among those surveyed by NCL, more than half (57 percent) believe that it’s very important or important that the restaurant they frequent provide workers with paid sick days.

“Without having the benefit of paid sick days, restaurant workers can’t afford to be sick and are forced to come to work—and handle consumers’ food—when they should be at home resting,” said Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Project on Wage Theft. “Providing paid sick days is very clearly in the interest of consumers and the workers who handle their food. This is especially critical now that a serious flu epidemic is sweeping the country.”

Survey findings: Servers’ wages

More than three-quarters of those surveyed (78 percent) agreed that it’s very important or important that the restaurants they eat in pay their workers fairly for the wages that they are owed. When leaving a tip, expectations are that all the money goes to the server, not to the restaurant. According to the survey, 82 percent of consumers believe that it’s very important or important that the full tip they leave for their server goes to the person who served them.

Many consumers are not aware that leaving credit card tips may result in servers not getting the full amount. It is a rarely reported reality that some restaurants withhold a percentage of servers’ tips from credit card payments. The practice recently resulted in celebrity chef / restaurant owner Mario Batali and his business partners settling a tip skimming class action lawsuit for $5.25 million. In fact, 66 percent of those surveyed said they did not know that their server might not receive the full tip if they left it on their credit card. With that knowledge, 89 percent of consumers said they were more likely to leave their tip in cash if they knew that restaurant management might take a portion of tips left on credit cards.

Survey findings: The tipped minimum wage

Times are tighter than ever for those working in the restaurant industry. According to ROC United, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90 an hour, just below the poverty line for a family of three. It has been 22 years since the federal tipped minimum wage, currently $2.13 an hour, was increased. According to the new NCL survey, 87 percent of consumers agree that the federal tipped minimum wage should be increased.

“Many consumers are not aware that restaurant servers actually depend on tips. With their base pay—the federal tipped minimum wage—remaining at a paltry $2.13 an hour for more than two decades, as inflation and the cost of living have skyrocketed, and Americans have suffered from recessions, servers are in dire need of increased wages,” said Greenberg. “And they’re not currently getting them.”

See NCL’s full survey and results.



These results are based on 1,024 telephone interviews among a random sample of US adults 18 years old and older. Interviews were conducted over the period December 13-16, 2012, utilizing both landline and cell telephones. Results among total sample have an error margin of +/- 3%. Interviewing was conducted on behalf of National Consumers League using ORC International’s CARAVAN® survey.

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

Education-for-girls activist Malala Yousafzai walks out of hospital after assassination attempt – National Consumers League

makiBy Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

The world is celebrating great news that came in with the New Year: 15-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai walked out of a Birmingham, England hospital on January 4th, nearly three months after the Taliban shot her in the head and neck during an assassination attempt in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Malala spoke out on behalf of her generation of girls having access to education —a position that was in sharp variance with Taliban extremists who tried to silence her.

Malala’s recovery, although far from complete, is being hailed as a miracle and her resilience is being celebrated far and wide. Malala’s courage has touched many, including pop-star Madonna, who dedicated a song to the girl in the days after the attack. She appeared at a concert with Malala’s name in large letters across her back.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown cited Malala as a hero and visited Pakistan to press for open access to education. “Can Pakistan convert its momentary desire to speak out in support of Malala into a long-term commitment to getting its three million girls and five million children into school?” asked Brown, who is currently serving as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. Brown’s advocacy in support of Malala has led to calls to provide school access to all girls by 2015.

For more than two decades, the Child Labor Coalition has fought to protect children from the worst forms of child labor and Malala’s vision is central to that effort. “Access to education is one of the keys to reducing child labor—that’s what Malala is fighting for and that’s why her work has been so important,” noted CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg and the Executive Director of the National Consumers League. According to the Global Campaign for Education, 53 percent of out-of-school youth worldwide are girls, and millions of girls face discrimination, sexual and physical abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.

In Pakistan, educational inequalities abound. The World Bank estimates that only 57 percent of girls and women can read and write, and in rural areas, only 22 percent of girls have completed primary-level schooling, compared with 47 percent of boys. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, nearly one-third of Pakistani children aged 5-14 are deprived of schooling, and the country is making “no advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.” Inspired by Malala’s case, however, the government of Pakistan has signaled its desire to provide equal access to education.

“The right to education is fundamental, and we stand with Malala and all those around the world who are working with us to make sure all children have equal access to high-quality public education,” said American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, also a CLC co-chair, in the days following the attack.

Malala’s education advocacy began at age 11, when she blogged about Taliban atrocities in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She wrote about the closing of schools for girls, which were a result of ultra conservative views—supported by the Taliban—toward women’s roles in Pakistani society. According to published reports, Malala felt forced to hide her school books and feared for her life, knowing that advocacy might make her a target of the Taliban. At age 11 she said, “All I want is an education. And I am afraid of no one.”

“Education is power, especially for girls. Malala knows this and has used her voice to advocate for others,” Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association, a Child Labor Coalition member reminded us at the time of the shooting. “The Taliban underestimated Malala from the beginning, but her power has already been unleashed. They cannot call it back. An educated girl becomes an informed woman, able to make the best choices for her own well-being and that of her family; generations are impacted.”

Despite the unequal access to education faced by many girls around the world, there is some good news. According to the International Labor Organization’s latest statistics, the number of girls in child labor worldwide fell between 2004 and 2008 from 103 million to 88 million. “We need to keep that progress up. We need to keep Malala’s vision alive and provide girls with unfettered access to education,” said the CLC’s Greenberg.

Although Malala faces many challenges ahead, including additional surgeries, her recovery is nothing short of miraculous. Her heroism and advocacy for girls inspires us all and may indeed lead to lasting changes in educational access for girls and women.

NCL praises departing Secretary of Labor Solis for contributions to America’s working families – National Consumers League

January 9, 2013

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay, (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneer consumer advocacy organization, expresses its gratitude for the service of Department of Labor Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who resigned from her position today.

“Secretary Solis worked mightily to protect the American worker during her tenure as the Secretary of Labor,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We were so impressed with her work on behalf of the nation’s most vulnerable workers, we honored her with NCL’s 2009 Trumpeter Award.”

“She made immediate improvements at the Department of Labor,” said Greenberg. “One of her first acts involved significantly increasing the number of Wage and Hour inspectors, working to protect the average worker from labor abuses. NCL operates programs to protect employees from wage theft and to safeguard children from exploitative child labor and teens from work-related injuries and illnesses. Secretary Solis was a great ally in these efforts. Her attempt to protect children working on farms through implementing occupational safeguards was especially appreciated, although ultimately it fell victim to election year politics.”

“We are grateful for Secretary Solis’ commitment and dedication to protecting America’s working families, especially as the nation battled a severe economic recession in recent years,” said Greenberg. “She will be missed at the DOL.”


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

Smoking is becoming passé in the States—a good thing! – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Over the holidays I took a vacation in a Caribbean Island and experienced what America was like 20 years ago in bars and restaurants. Literally everyone at every table inside and outside was smoking cigarettes or cigars. I felt like I was living out a scene from Mad Men. And I hated it. Not only that but the exhaust from the cars combined with the ubiquitous cigarette smoke reminded me how lucky we are in the United States to be free of that smoke-filled environment. And how much healthier we are as a result.

Indeed, the latest news is that curbs on smoking in American companies and businesses continues to grow. Effective New Year’s Day this year, employees of 3M and in Delaware State Government will no longer be able to duck outside for a cigarette. North Dakota banned smoking in most public places. Curbs are under discussion in Bangor, Maine and San Francisco. The best news of all is that efforts to ban and otherwise discourage smoking appear to be working: We’re at 19 percent of Americans smoking now, compared to 42 percent in 1965, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that smoking and secondhand smoke cause 20 percent of the deaths in the United States each year.

So as I sat there, miserably taking in secondhand smoke during my Caribbean vacation, and cursing the tobacco companies for importing the cigarettes that Americans aren’t smoking to lesser-developed countries, I realized how grateful I am to live in a country where smoking is rapidly going out of style. And we are all far healthier for it.

NCL: Kudos to FDA for releasing ‘essential rules’ to transform food safety system – National Consumers League

January 4, 2013

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay, (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, is today congratulating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its release of two long-anticipated proposed rules. These rules, which address standards for produce safety and preventive controls for human food, will help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law by President Obama two years ago.

“We are pleased that FDA has released these essential rules,” said Teresa Green, NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow. “These rules are an integral part of truly realizing the goals of FSMA. When fully implemented, this law will transform our food safety system from one that focuses on response to foodborne illness outbreaks to one that works to prevent these outbreaks from ever occurring.”

“We congratulate FDA for taking this step and look forward to reading the complete rules and commenting on their contents. NCL urges the federal government to release other pending food safety rules so that FDA can continue its important work enacting other important aspects of FSMA.”


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

Newtown charity scams show no event too tragic for fraudsters – National Consumers League

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

It seems almost unimaginable that someone would try to take advantage of the Newtown school shooting to defraud consumers. Unfortunately, in this tragedy as with others, scam artists are all too willing to stoop to a new low.  According to a report from Jeff Rossen and Avni Patel of NBC’s “Today” show, a scam artist in the Bronx posed as the aunt of Newtown victim Noah Pozner in a ploy to collect donations for a fictitious charity fund. While the scammer in this case was later arrested, the high-profile of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy is sure to generate other charity scams.

Unfortunately, such scams have become a predictable part of most major natural disasters or other tragedies. They cropped up in 2004 after the Indonesian tsunami, in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, in 2010 after the Haiti earthquake, and earlier this year after the Aurora theater shooting, to name but a few. In each case, unscrupulous con artists took advantage of the natural inclination of good Samaritans to help others in times of need. Charity scammers are adept at setting up fake Web sites, sending out telephone solicitations, and using email and direct mail to try and create a sense of trust with their victims. Rarely does any money donated to these outfits make its way to the intended charitable causes.

Charity scams are doubly damaging, since they not only cost victims money, but they also deprive legitimate charities of badly needed contributions. Consumers who are approached to donate money to a charity should be sure to check out the charity ahead of time before giving. Web sites like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance are good places to start when researching a charitable organization.

Unfortunately, these aren’t foolproof ways to protect oneself from charity scams. Scammers often pose as legitimate charities such as the Red Cross or UNICEF, even going so far as to set up Web sites or Facebook pages that look like the real organization’s sites. They may include the logos of respected organizations in emails or other solicitations to make themselves seem more legitimate. If you receive a solicitation to support a particular charitable organization, even one you may have heard of before, it’s usually a good idea to contact the charity directly (either via the Web or a listed telephone number for the group) and make your donation that way.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that major news events, especially ones with victims that tug at our heartstrings, are sure to bring out scammers. While it’s right to want to support others in their time of need, make sure and donate smartly to avoid becoming a victim of a charity scam. For more information on spotting and avoiding charity scams, click here.

Dozen states, cities ringing in New Year with minimum wage increases – National Consumers League

With the turning of the calendar to 2013, ten states and two large cities have increased their minimum wage for low-wage workers. Is your city or state one of them?

Washington continues to lead the nation with the highest state minimum wage and is the only state with a minimum wage higher than $9 an hour. As of January 1, 2013, its minimum wage is $9.19 per hour. Nine other states also increased their minimum wages at the first of the year: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.



New Wage as of Jan. 1, 2013






















Rhode Island









As of the first of the year, San Francisco continues to lead nationwide minimum hourly wages – federal, state, county, and city; and is the first in the nation to top $10 an hour. The minimum hourly wage increased by 31 cents from $10.24 to $10.55 per hour. Albuquerque, New Mexico also increased their city minimum wage by a dollar to $8.50 an hour.

This New Year, be sure to take the time to examine your paystub and double check that you’re being paid the correct amount. Remember, the Department of Labor has tools to help you track your pay, overtime and vacation time – an app for your smartphone and a printable work hours calendar in English and Spanish.