A reason to whine about wine – National Consumers League

By Sam Hamer, Public Policy Intern  To all the Romeos and Juliets out there, your romantic dinner may have become more expensive than you anticipated. That’s because wine prices in American restaurants have risen to prodigious heights, or so contends The Wall Street Journal wine columnist Lettie Teague.

In her June 2013 column, “Highs and (Rare) Lows in Restaurant Wine Prices,” Teague surveys the wine lists of several fine-dining restaurants in New York City, revealing that the practice of marking up the price of wine bottles to four or five times their wholesale value has become commonplace. Teague cites such upscale restaurants as Montmartre, a French bistro in Chelsea, where the Pinot blanc (wholesale price $16) sells for a whopping $67 in house. For patrons of Manhattan’s fine dining scene—likely the most gourmet in North America—splurging on a $67 white wine may not be so outlandish. Yet diners across the United States and Canada are feeling the pinch. When CTV, a Canadian news station, surveyed a dozen restaurants around Winnipeg, Manitoba, they found price markups of over 300%.

As Teague warns, this sort of pricing can keep people from drinking wine, a real shame for more than just the Journal’s wine columnist. Of course, no restaurant patron can expect to pay merely retail price for a glass or bottle of wine, and virtually every restaurant wine purchase includes some price markup. Inputs such as a liquor license, fancy glasses, cellar space, and binders and stationary for the wine list don’t come without a price. Restaurant owners must also pay a sommelier and/or train waitstaff in how to pair and serve wine. Moreover, the fact that fine restaurants earn relatively small margins on their entrees makes alcohol sales necessary to maintain relatively high expenses. Even Teague concedes that wine is a “revenue center.”

Whether or not restaurants can justify a four-fold uptick in the price of wine can and will be debated. Some wine aficionados have contended that wine prices should be even higher, analogizing that “it costs 25 cents to make a cup [of coffee], but they’re going to charge $4 because there’s labor, cleaning and all of those factors that get priced into the markup.” With or without markups, wine prices have risen recently as the industry faces considerable production challenges.

In 2012, wine inventories dipped 6.1% to their lowest stock in over 30 years on account of poor weather. Vineyard prices also swelled, with a prime acre in Bordeaux soaring to $1.3 million, 10% higher than the 2011 price. Prices were also driven higher by consumer demand. As the LA Times reported, “Last year, wine sales in the U.S. reached a record high, rising 2% from 2011 to 360.1 million cases worth an estimated $34.6 billion.” The combination of a production shortage, heightened demand, and amplified markups(?) have buoyed wine prices by an average of 5.35% at upscale restaurants in the past 6 months, according to a report released by Restaurant Sciences.

For consumers looking to skirt restaurant markups, 26 states and 6 Canadian provinces grant diners the privilege of carrying in their own wine to be served with dinner. But BYOB laws, as they are called, don’t always let diners escape the additional costs of consuming wine in house. Many restaurants will charge a “corkage fee”—frequently $25 or more at high-end restaurants—to cover the costs of glasses, table service, and lost revenue on account of a customer’s decision to not purchase wine from the menu. So then what is a cash-strapped Romeo to do when he wishes to woo Lady Juliet over dinner and a bottle of Merlot? As one blogger put it, the wine-buying public should seek out establishments that put emphasis on a fairly-priced wine list. By the same token, diners should call out restaurateurs who charge for excessively priced wine, i.e., more than three times the wine’s retail value. For individuals particularly passionate about the issue, the upstart nonprofit American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC) provides an outlet for advocacy on behalf of wine consumers.

Surgeon General Benjamin joins with National Consumers League for annual meeting of Committed Partners on National Medication Adherence Awareness Campaign – National Consumers League

July 11, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, (202) 835-3323, benk@nclnet.org 

Washington, DC—Yesterday the National Consumers League (NCL) convened its annual meeting of the Committed Partners of the Script Your Future public education campaign, in its third year of raising awareness among patients about the consequences of not taking medication as directed. Three out of four Americans are non-adherent, meaning that they fail to take prescribed medicines as directed by their health care professionals. Coordinated by the League and launched in 2011, the innovative, multi-stakeholder effort campaign continues to educate millions of patients, family caregivers and health care professionals about the importance of adherence.

At the annual meeting, representatives from the campaign’s 135 Committed Partners and other supporters gathered to highlight campaign successes, hear reports from field organizers in the campaign’s local target markets and strategize about its ongoing work in the changing healthcare landscape. The attendees heard remarks from outgoing U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, who earlier this summer announced her plans to step down from the post. Benjamin talked about her involvement in Script Your Future and offered support for continued success. 

“Our national challenge is to become a more healthy and fit nation. We can’t prevent all diseases, but we can prevent many from getting worse by taking our medications as directed. When we work together as a whole team, we can provide better healthcare for patients,” said Benjamin. “Thousands of consumers are taking the pledge and using many Script Your Future tools to improve adherence.”

Dr. Benjamin helped Script Your Future organizers present awards to the winners of the 2013 Medication Adherence Team Challenge, who traveled to the meeting to represent their colleges and universities and receive the national honors. This month-long competition engaged health profession students and faculty in developing creative ideas for raising awareness about medication adherence as a critical public health issue. This year’s awardees are: St. Louis College of Pharmacy, University of Charleston School of Pharmacy, University of the Pacific Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, Touro University California College of Pharmacy, and The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.

“This year’s challenge featured 1,700 future health care professionals holding 200 events in 35 states and the District of Columbia, counseling more than 12,000 patients and reaching more than 3 million consumers nationwide,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, the organization that coordinates Script Your Future. “We were honored to have Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, a good friend and long-time supporter of the campaign, with us today to help honor the student leaders who represent an exciting and new generation of patient-minded health professionals.”

Dr. Janet Woodcock, Director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA spoke at the meeting as well. The National Consumers League was recently notified by the FDA of the availability of grant funds to support the Script Your Future campaign by an announcement in the Federal Register.

“The framing of this campaign is brilliant. You are in control of your own future. It brings it home personally. You can control your future by taking action now,” said Woodcock. “NCL is the ideal lead for this effort, a trusted advocate for the health and welfare of the public. We at FDA intend to support NCL in any way we can to keep this effort going.”

Script Your Future is supported by a coalition of more than 130 public and private partners, including health care professional groups, chronic disease groups, health insurance plans, pharmaceutical companies, business organizations, consumer groups, as well as researchers and government agencies. The Script Your Future regional markets are Baltimore, Md.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Providence, RI; Raleigh, NC; and Sacramento, Calif.

Since its launch in 2011, the campaign has represented the interests of consumers and patients in providing materials in numerous languages through partnerships with pharmacies, hospitals, medical offices and clinics, and health insurance plans; hosted community events and health fairs across the country; partnered with local officials, and evaluated medication adherence awareness through research. The centerpiece of the first-of-its-kind, multi-year campaign is a website, www.ScriptYourFuture.org, which provides tools to support patient efforts to adhere to their prescribed medicine. Tools include free text message reminders, videos, sample questions, medication lists and charts to keep track of medicines, and fact sheets on common chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure.

To learn more about the campaign, visit www.ScriptYourFuture.org.


Script Your Future is a campaign of the National Consumers League (NCL), a private, non-profit membership organization founded in 1899. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. The National Consumers League serves consumers across the country by providing government, businesses and other organizations with the consumer’s perspective on a range of concerns – including health care and medication information. As an advocacy organization, NCL is working to educate consumers and key health stakeholders on the importance of taking medication as directed. For more information about this campaign, visit www.ScriptYourFuture.org, and for more information on our other areas of focus, please visit www.nclnet.org.

Google’s Transparency Report reveals widespread global malware – National Consumers League

By Sam Hamer and R.J. Smith, Public Policy Interns Last week, tech giant Google released its semiannual Transparency Report, which for the first time included data about malware and security threats drawn from the company’s Safe Browsing program. The program began in 2006 as a way to identify infected sites and warn browser users who attempt to access them.

According to Google: “Our security team built Safe Browsing to identify unsafe Web sites and notify users and webmasters so they can protect themselves from harm. By providing details about the threats we detect and the warnings we show, we hope to shine some light on the state of web security and encourage safer web security practices.” As part of the Safe Browsing program, Google scans a fraction of sites in each country and utilizes the data to indicate the prevalence of sites hosting malware. A country-by-country breakdown of the prevalence of malware-infected sites shows, for instance, that approximately 2 percent of the over 14 million sites in the United States contain malware or phishing scams.

By comparison, roughly 15 percent of sites in India tested positive for malware, one of the highest rates in the world. Google’s worldwide tracker identifies as many as 90,000 unsafe Web sites per week, notifying webmasters each time fraudulent code is discovered. In addition to delivering a warning page to browser users who attempt to access these infected sites, webmasters receive a report notifying them of the corruption and instructing them to fix the problem. Google’s disclosure of malware infection data has received significant media coverage, with the New York TimesNBC News, and CNN covering the release, in addition to a smattering of online magazines and tech blogs. Many credit Google with increasing popular awareness of “just how unsafe the Internet has become,” as the New York Times put it.

Google’s Dorothy Chou disclosed in an email that, “the coverage has been fairly neutral to positive.” But, she notes, “[it is] probably too early to know what people are doing with the data release yet.” Indeed, while Google’s collection of malware and phishing data over the past half-decade has provided greater certainty of where malicious online activity persists, just what the vanguards of online security should do with the data is less certain. As privacy blogger John Hawes notes on the blog Naked Security, webmasters can now monitor the Safe Browsing site for data about their site provider service.

If Google’s data show that a particular site provider comes up as a host for a number of infected sites, then webmasters will know that they should start asking questions, Hawes suggests. Moreover, webmasters can better inform themselves about which site providers have a clean record, and flag those providers who host numerous infected sites. If anything, the Safe Browsing program has contributed to a heightened awareness of Internet scams among the general populace. While many Internet users have heard of the words “phishing” and “malware,” Google has shed additional light on the scope of the problem. As Google engineer Niels Provos put it, “[Safe Browsing] is about making the Internet a safer environment… We want to make as much information available about the state of the Web as we see it…By putting [the data] out there, we want to educate Web masters that this is very real, that the danger of you getting infected is very large.”

Beware of pomegranate seeds as Hepatitis A outbreak spreads – National Consumers League

By Zoe Stahl, Food and Labor Policy Intern
Over the past month, the food safety community has been gathering more and more information about a recent Hepatitis A outbreak. The outbreak, which has infected 140 people, has been linked to pomegranate seeds imported from Turkey and can be found in the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to investigate how the outbreak occurred.

But, in the meanwhile, let’s get the facts straight. What’s Hepatitis A? Hepatitis A is a virus that causes liver disease.  The virus is typically spread through the ingestion of fecal matter, usually through contaminated food or close contact with an infected person. What’s been done? The business community responded quickly. Costco, which had sold the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend to over 240,000 customers since February, has been calling customers to notify them of the outbreak.  They have also announced the recall and pulled the product off of their shelves. The Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, an FDA-led team of state agencies, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been working hard to trace the virus as well. So, could this outbreak have been prevented? It is likely that this outbreak could have been prevented through the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which creates a food safety system more focused on prevention than response.  The import portion of the law, which would help make imported foods meet the same food safety standards as the ones in the U.S., has yet to be implemented. If the rule had been put into effect, this outbreak could very easily have been prevented. Unfortunately, the rule has been stuck in the bureaucracy of government agencies and has not yet been released. Perhaps this tragic outbreak will provide the impetus the government needs to release this essential import rule before any more outbreaks occur.

STRIKE: Workers protest wage theft at the Reagan Building – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights On Tuesday July 2, low-wage workers employed at the largest U.S. federal office building, Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Building, went on strike. They were not striking for better health benefits (most don’t receive any health benefits), they were not striking for higher wages, and they were not striking for pensions (most will never see a pension). They went on strike to standup against their employers after being victims of wage theft – they have not been paid legally.

These low-wage workers are employees of federal contractors operating on federal land – the Reagan Building is owned by the federal government and paid for by our tax dollars. However the federal contractors are NOT following the law. Some of these workers have not been paid the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) much less than the D.C. minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, while others have not been paid the overtime they’ve earned after 40 hours of work a week. Most fear retaliation if they dare to speak up. In many cases, these workers continue to work while being victimized by their bosses because they’re struggling to survive paycheck to paycheck. Good Jobs Nation, the group responsible for organizing the protest, is made up of workers, community members, and clergy. They have partnered with worker groups and unions to stand with and support disenfranchised workers and raise awareness of the plight of low-wage workers. Today’s protests included speeches by D.C. City Council Members Tommy Wells and Kenyan McDuffie, clergy, and, most importantly, the workers who have been suffering from wage theft. The D.C. City Council recently passed a law allowing workers to not only receive their back wages, but also receive triple the amount of damages. This is a problem with a simple solution. Since the employers are federal contractors leasing space from the federal government, the federal government needs to add a lease provision that makes all contractors adhere to all the labor laws in their jurisdiction, ensure routine labor enforcement, and have concrete consequences for breaking the law. For more information on Good Jobs Nation please check out their website and sign the petition asking that President Obama to make sure that federal contractors pay living wages and respect worker rights to join together and have a voice on the job.

NCL praises New York Attorney General for opening investigation into prepaid cards – National Consumers League

July 3, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, benk@nclnet.org

Washington, DC— The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, applauds New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for launching an investigation into retail giants that use prepaid cards to pay their employees. Among the businesses being investigated are Walmart, McDonalds, Home Depot, and Walgreens. The investigation will examine the three ways in which these companies pay their employees: paper check, direct deposit, and prepaid cards. Under New York state law, employees must give their consent to be paid by payroll cards and acceptance of this form of payment cannot be a condition of employment.

Recent reports have shown that there are many additional fees associated with the use of such cards, including withdrawal fees, replacement fees, inactivity fees, and a fee for requesting a paper statement. According to the Federal Reserve, the prepaid card is the fastest growing non-cash method of payment. Banks are eager to partner with businesses that use these prepaid cards because of the fees associated with them.

“This is outrageous. Most of these employees are not paid a livable wage; the last thing they need is the additional burden of onerous fees further reducing their already meager wages. NCL encourages Attorneys General in other states to follow Mr. Schneiderman’s lead,” 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 www.nclnet.org.

A budding relationship between LifeSmarts and FBLA – National Consumers League

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Lisa Hertzberg, LifeSmarts Program Director LifeSmarts staff has just returned from our first Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) National Leadership Conference (NLC) and is excited about the many possibilities for connections and growth. Our partners at FBLA have been accommodating and encouraging, and, beginning this fall, we’re pleased to offer FBLA’s 250,000 High School members a full-fledged LifeSmarts competitive event.

In our pilot this year 400 teams from FBLA chapters across the country competed online in the fall and spring challenges for the right to advance to compete live at the NLC, where the top 18 teams joined us for individual assessments, team activities, and traditional buzzer matches. While in Anaheim teams demonstrated consumer smarts – answering questions across LifeSmarts topics such as:

  • banking, credit, and marketplace economics
  • the three R’s, deforestation, and the greenhouse effect
  • government oversight, the legal system, and fighting fraud
  • nutrition, personal hygiene, and disease prevention
  • hardware, mobile phones, and Internet services

By being quick on the buzzers and backing it up with knowledge across all of the LifeSmarts topics, these teams took home top honors: Cheney HS FBLA, Washington 2. George Marshall HS FBLA, Virginia 3. Barrington HS FBLA, Rhode Island 4. West Platte HS FBLA, Missouri 4. West Chicago HS FBLA, Illinois Congratulations to all of our participants – matches were very competitive and the teams showed great sportsmanship throughout the competition. We invite FBLA Chapter Advisers and student leaders to mark your calendars for the 2013-14 LifeSmarts competitive events: Fall Challenge: October 15 – November 15, 2013 Spring Challenge: February 1 – 28, 2014 FBLA NLC in Nashville: June 29 – July 2, 2014

New Web site helps consumers navigate health insurance exchanges – National Consumers League

By Nikola Sirovica, Communications Intern Many Americans are confused about how to enroll in the new health insurance exchanges which will take effect on January 1, 2014.  A new resource will help you navigate options when registration begins on October 1, 2013.

The Obama administration last week kicked off the Health Insurance Marketplace education effort with a consumer-friendly Healthcare.gov Web site and a 24-hour-a-day consumer call center to help Americans sign up for private health insurance. The new tools will help consumers select the coverage that best suits their needs. Open enrollment for free or low-cost coverage available through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) begins October 1. Key features of the Web site include integration of social media, sharable content, and consumer-friendly information to help Americans find the right coverage for their budget. The new design allows consumers to access it from their desktops, smart phones, and other mobiles devices, and also features a web chat for those who need live assistance. By October, consumers will be able to create accounts, complete an online application, and shop for qualified health plans. As Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, put it, “the Web site will make sure every American who needs health coverage has the information they need to make the choices that are right for themselves, their families, and their businesses.” Learn more about the Web site at www.HealthCare.gov. For Spanish speaking consumers, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, will be updated to match the information found in the new Web site. Customer service representatives are available for assistance via a toll-free number at 1-800-318-2596