Federal agency issues long-delayed life-saving standard to require rear visibility for cars and SUVs – National Consumers League

March 31, 2014

Contact: NCL Executive Director, Sally Greenberg 202-835-3323,  sallyg@nclnet.org

Washington, DC – On the eve of a federal court hearing on the topic, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a long-delayed auto safety standard to improve vehicles’ rear visibility and prevent deaths that occur when drivers back over pedestrians. In a 2008 law named after Cameron Gulbransen, a toddler backed over and killed at age 2, Congress directed DOT to issue a rear visibility standard by 2011. The Obama Administration delayed the deadline numerous times, finally issuing today’s rule after a coalition of safety advocates, including Cameron’s father, sued DOT. The National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, is grateful that the agency issued the long overdue new standard. This announcement came one day before a federal appeals court was set to hear arguments on whether to order DOT to issue the rule.

“It’s inexcusable that it took so long, but finally having this rule in place is a huge milestone for auto safety,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. Before coming to NCL, Greenberg served as Product Safety Counsel for Consumers Union and worked alongside Janette Fennell of Kids and Cars and with families from across the country to bring this issue to the attention of members of Congress in 2000-2001. “Today is a day to celebrate; children’s lives will be saved by this rule.” 

Each year, according to DOT, more than 200 individuals are killed and 15,000 injured in “back over” crashes. Drivers using all three mirrors cannot see anything in a blind zone 10-40 feet long directly behind their vehicles. Over half of those killed in back over accidents are children under 5 or adults 70 or older, DOT’s analysis shows. The new rule will set a standard for rear visibility that effectively requires rearview cameras in new vehicles under 10,000 pounds (excluding motorcycles) by 2018.

On four separate occasions from 2011 to 2013, the administration told Congress that it was delaying the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act. In November 2011, DOT sent a draft final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget, where it languished for nineteen months before being withdrawn in June 2013. After DOT announced that it intended to complete the rule by January 2015, taking twice as long as Congress had directed, safety advocates and two parents who hit their children because they couldn’t see them in the vehicle’s blind zone sued DOT. The lawsuit asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to order the agency to issue the rule promptly. The federal court was to hear the case on April 1, 2014.

The lawsuit was filed by Public Citizen on behalf of Dr. Greg Gulbransen, Susan Auriemma, Consumers Union of the United States, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Kids And Cars, Inc. Gulbransen, of Syosset, N.Y., backed over his 2-year-old son Cameron in his driveway in 2002; Auriemma, of Manhasset, N.Y., backed over her 3-year-old daughter Kate in her driveway in 2005, injuring her.



About the National Consumers League 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its 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.

National Consumers League statement on FCC actions promoting media diversity and competition – National Consumers League

March 31, 2014

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

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League today applauded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its vote to attribute the Commission’s media ownership rules to Joint Sales Agreements between television stations. NCL also applauded the Commission’s unanimous vote to prohibit certain joint retransmission consent negotiations by broadcasters.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud:

“The promotion of diversity, competition and localism in the media is central to the FCC’s mission. It is therefore imperative that agreements allowing broadcasters to avoid the Commission’s media ownership limits be prohibited, absent a compelling public interest reason that they be waived. The Commission’s action today rightfully supports consumers’ access to a wide variety of voices on the nation’s public airwaves.”

“As NCL has stated in the past, consumers should not be pawns in the seemingly never-ending retransmission fights between billion-dollar cable companies and media conglomerates. The FCC’s action to prohibit certain joint retransmission consent negotiations by broadcasters will help prod all parties at the table to focus on the best interests of their ultimate customers – bill-paying consumers.”


About the National Consumers League 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its 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.

America: Land of the free, home of the wasteful? – National Consumers League

Have you ever wondered what happens to the food you throw away? A quarter to a third of all food worldwide goes to waste, and in America an astonishing 40 percent of our food is wasted. For many Americans, bounty and convenience make it easy to be out of touch with where food comes from and where it ends up. Learn what you can you do about it, starting today!

Since the 1970’s, when industrial farming became a significant means of feeding the public, food waste in the U.S. has increased by 50 percent. While Americans’ growing interest in the origin of their food is a step in the right direction, we need to complete the circle by also taking note of what happens to our food that we toss away. 

Food waste can happen at many points throughout the supply chain but consumers and commercial establishments, like restaurants and grocery stores, are the largest wasters of food. American families throw away 25 percent of the food they purchase which costs a family an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 a year.  Not only is this bad for our wallets, but it’s also bad for the environment. Food waste typically ends up in landfills creating methane gas, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. The UK estimates that if everyone on earth stopped wasting food that could be eaten, it would have the environmental equivalent of removing every one in four cars from the road. 

We at the National Consumers League found these statistics disturbing and we’ve decided to do something about it.  The League will begin working on a food waste project to educate consumers and put pressure on both federal and local governments to reduce food waste. Improved expiration date labeling, compost pick up, and food handling education are all important steps to help consumers reduce their food waste. 

America may be the land of plenty but there are still plenty of Americans that go hungry every day; One in six to be exact. If we reduced our food waste losses by 15% we could feed 25 million more Americans each year, that’s half of all Americans that are currently food insecure. As a nation, we have no reason to ignore this massive problem.  Both the United Kingdom and the European Union have resolved to drastically reduce their food waste and the United States should follow their lead. As a nation we cannot continue to throw food prematurely or unnecessarily into the garbage as tens of millions Americans struggle to find food to put on the table to feed their families. 

Last day! Visit healthcare.gov to sign up for health insurance before it’s too late. – National Consumers League

The last day to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is here! Monday, March 31 is the last day that eligible adults can enroll in health insurance without being penalized.

For those who miss the deadline, most won’t be able to sign up for Marketplace health insurance again until the next open enrollment period, which starts on November 15, 2014. Important things to know:

  • The penalty for those who don’t sign up for health insurance this year is $95 for each adult for the year ($47.50 per child) or 1% of your annual household income (whichever number is higher). This penalty is only for those who can afford health insurance. For more information on, who is exempt from this penalty, visit HealthCare.gov.
  • More than 6 million people have signed up for private health insurance coverage since ACA’s care’s open enrollment began in October 2013. More are expected to sign up before the March 31 deadline. It’s expected that federal and state health exchange will be swamped over the next week as procrastinators try to make the deadline. If you need extra help signing up and access the federal or state hotlines, you may experience longer wait times as the deadline approaches.
  • If you have had a “qualifying life event” such as losing your employee health insurance, having a baby, or getting married, you will be able to sign up for health insurance after the March 31 deadline.
  • The March 31 deadline does not apply to those eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These programs are open year-round to those who are eligible.

One important note, there has been media buzz over the last few days about an ACA extension. Basically, if you are not signed up by March 31 because of website glitches and delays, or if you have started the process on the Marketplace website but have not finished, you will be allowed to enroll after the March 31 deadline. You can do this by asking for an extension on the HealthCare.gov website, which will give you until mid-April to finish your enrollment. For more information on the March 31 deadline, the next enrollment period, qualifying life events, and any other questions you may have about the ACA and signing up for health insurance, visit HealthCare.gov for more information.

Fraud alert: New malware scams making April fools out of victims – National Consumers League

March 27, 2014

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

Washington, DC—Anti-fraud advocates at the National Consumers League are warning consumers this month about a scam being tracked by the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and other federal agencies: Cryptolocker malware. Crooks are targeting consumers and businesses with sophisticated technology that, spread through email and difficult-to-detect downloads, encrypts the contents of a hard drive, making it impossible to use one’s files. According to the FTC, after the malware is installed by an unsuspecting computer user, the Cryptolocker crooks send a ransom note demanding hundreds of dollars in payment via Bitcoin or another anonymous payment method before they will unlock the files. Once a consumer pays the ransom, there’s no guarantee that the fraudster will not simply ask for more money.

“Even if you pay the ransom, are you really willing to bet that the criminals running this scam will honor their promises and unlock your computer files?” said John Breyault, director of NCL’s Fraud.org campaign.

Ransomware has been around for a decade, but the frequency and severity of CryptoLocker scams appears to be on the rise. According to Dell SecureWorks, CryptoLocker raked in $5 million dollars in the last four months of 2013 alone.

study by the University of Kent found that 2 out of every 5 CryptoLocker victims pay the ransom. This malware is especially sneaky, as it can be disguised as JPEG images, as PDF files, as Microsoft Office files, and other innocuous, familiar files. There are even reports that Facebook could be one of the likeliest places to get a CryptoLocker malware. Businesses have also been reported to be victimized by these scams.

Tips for avoiding Cryptolocker and other malware scams

  1. Back up your files frequently on a separate device (which does not remain connected to your main computer) or use free cloud storage systems that are available online.
  2. Be on the lookout for suspicious looking phishing emails and links. Do not click on links or attachments from untrusted senders.
  3. Consider using ad-filtering applications that are free for your web browser to avoid clicking on suspicious links from ad pop-ups either by accident or by compulsion.


About the National Consumers League 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its 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.

Amidst a flurry of economic theories about the minimum wage, personal struggles tell the story – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

These days, issues of economic security are finally getting their due. Cities and states – and in some cases counties – have decided to strike it out on their own and take matters into their own hands. Thirteen states and a few cities and counties have increased their minimum wages in the past year. Still, the federal government lags behind.

A few weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing on the Senate Fair Minimum Wage Act (S.460 & H.R. 1010) that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, increase the tipped minimum wage from a paltry $2.13 an hour to 70% of the ‘regular’ minimum wage ($7.07), and index both to the rate of inflation – thus stopping this vital wage from being used as a political football.

The hearing witness list included the usual heavyweights: the U.S. Department of Labor‘s (DOL) Secretary Tom Perez and the Director of the Congressional Budget Office Douglas Elmendorf as well as Dr. Heather Boushey, the Executive Director and Chief Economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK, but most importantly, Alicia McCrary – a mother of four trying to make ends meet as a fast food worker on a minimum wage salary.

Alicia McCrary’s voice brought the discussion out of the battling economic studies, partisan posturing, and election year sound bites and back to reality. McCrary simply told her truth and the truth of many families. She spoke of how she moved her four boys out of Chicago after leaving an abusive relationship and shared with the Committee the routine of deciding each month which of her four sons would be the lucky one to get a haircut because she can’t afford for them all to have haircuts in the same month.

Alicia is a good example of what life is like for millions of American families struggling on the minimum wage. Besides demands from work, these working parents face many hurdles at home from finding affordable housing and childcare to feeding their growing children and providing them with health care. With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a single mother that works full time and has one child, lives in poverty at $15,080 (before taxes) a year. This qualifies them for food stamps because without it, they would have little left after paying rent, utilities, transportation, and health care.

The New York Times and the Economic Policy Institute have both released minimum wage calculators/budgets that demonstrate just how far a minimum wage paycheck goes. They highlight the many costs faced by families and just how unlivable the current minimum wage is. Not surprisingly, the numbers show the writing on the wall that families across the country already know. With the recent cuts to the federal food stamp program, low-wage workers are seeing their budgets get stretched even farther. In many metropolitan areas affordable housing is a myth – in a recently published report Out of Reach

from the National Low Income Housing Coalition – in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent. In Washington D.C., where a District minimum wage earner makes $8.50 an hour – more than the federal minimum wage, it would take that same worker 137 hours per week to afford rent. How many hours would a minimum wage earner need to work in your state to afford rent?

If raised to $10.10 an hour, as those in both houses of Congress and worker advocates are calling for, then 30.3 million workers would get a raise. American families need a break – we need to raise the minimum wage!

Advocates call for FTC action to address data insecurity – National Consumers League

March 25, 2014

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

Washington, DC – A coalition of consumer and privacy organizations today called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to convene a forum examining the ongoing impact of data insecurity on America’s consumers. In a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the groups cited the increased consumer awareness of the threat of data breaches and other cybersecurity risks in the wake of data thefts at Target, Michaels, Snapchat, and other businesses.

“The Target breach should serve as a wake-up call that more must be done to address the looming data insecurity disaster,” noted the groups. “This is no longer an issue that can be limited to discussion among cybersecurity experts. It is now a threat to the entire economy.”

Statistics cited by the organizations included:

  • Since 2005, there have been more than 4,000 disclosed data breaches, a rate of more than one per day for nine straight years, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
  • According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 13.1 million consumers suffered identity fraud in 2013, the second highest level on record. Total annual identity fraud losses were $18 billion.
  • Since 2004, more than 1.1 billion consumer records have been exposed to unauthorized parties, according to Verizon.

Past FTC workshops have examined pressing data security challenges surrounding the “Internet of Things,” mobile devices, and tax-related identity theft, among other issues. These forums provide an important opportunity for policymakers to convene experts and discuss ongoing consumer protection issues facing the Commission.

Organizations listed on the letter included Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League (NCL) and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“The threat to consumers and the economy from data breaches is very real and growing,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Given the vast amounts of personal information that consumers are being asked to provide, it is imperative that the data be better protected from hackers and other malicious actors. As the nation’s leading consumer protection agency, the FTC is the right organization to lead a national conversation on this issue.”

Read the groups’ letter here.


About the National Consumers League 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its 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.

Recent high profile stories about GM and Toyota reveal the flaws of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – National Consumers League

In the shadow of the General Motors and Toyota stories about widespread safety issues that went largely ignored, is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s lax performance. This agency is the consumer’s guardian to ensure that industry designs and manufactures cars and trucks safely. The federal agency failed at this assignment. As a New York Times editorial noted, recent events “show[s] glaring deficiencies in enforcement of auto safety regulations.”

Consumers reported from 2009-2010 sudden acceleration problems with their cars.   When Toyota denied it had problems with the phenomenon of sudden unexpected acceleration (SUA), NHTSA agreed, issuing a report in 2011 essentially denying consumers’ experience with this very dangerous defect: it sends a car hurtling down the road, unable to stop. An off duty policeman and three members of his family were killed when his brakes failed to override the throttle mechanism. NHTSA’s report claimed “driver error”.  The agency was wrong, and a recent $1.2 billion settlement reached between Toyota and the Department of Justice shows: Toyota admitted it failed to report defects and worse, denied there was ever a problem.

General Motors recalled 1.6 million cars after admitting it had failed to report faulty ignition switches it knew were defective.  But NHTSA had reports from consumers for years that it failed to act on. The ignition key would slip out of place and freeze up the steering wheel. A dozen innocent people were killed in accidents related to this defect.

The New York Times notes that NHTSA’s $10 million budget for investigations has barely increased over the past decade and the agency lacks criminal power to levy criminal sanctions. There are many good people who work at NHTSA that are dedicated to protecting consumers and improving car safety, but that’s no excuse for NHTSA’s lapses.

I spent a decade working on auto safety for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. We couldn’t get NHTSA to act on some glaring safety problems – like SUVs and pickup trucks rolling over at much higher numbers than cars. We had to go to Congress – Senator Ed Markey led the charge when he was in the House of Representatives, getting legislation passed mandating that NHTSA develop a test for vehicle stability.

I’m sorry to say the GM and Toyota examples tell me that not much has changed. Federal safety agencies should never forget they hold the lives of consumers in their hands The agency needs to be far more responsive to reports from consumers of vehicle defects. Consumers’ lives depend on it. If that takes a changes of leadership and culture, so be it.

“There is no question that in these cases, the automakers failed the public,” the Times rightly concluded, “federal regulators – and the Congress that has denied them the weapons they need – are complicit in that failure.”

National Consumers League statement on Murthy nomination for Surgeon General – National Consumers League

March 19, 2014

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

Washington, DC – The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League.

As the nation’s pioneering consumer organization and one concerned throughout our 115-year history about the health and well-being of Americans, the National Consumers League (NCL) finds it troubling that the current nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is facing criticism for supporting basic measures to improve our nation’s health. Murthy, a great public health champion, is a strong advocate for the Affordable Care Act and, like the majority of Americans, for including reasonable gun policies as part of our nation’s health agenda. If confirmed, he plans to make combating America’s obesity epidemic a top priority. These issues are exactly what a Surgeon General should include in his or her agenda. 

Because of Murthy’s mentioning guns as a health matter, some members of Congress have indicated they would not vote to confirm him. We think this is unfortunate and shortsighted . Gun violence does affect the health of Americans:  on average, eight young people under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day. American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries. On average, 32 Americans are murdered with guns every day, and 140 seek emergency room treatment for gun assaults.

NCL has enjoyed strong relationships with past U.S. Surgeons General. In 2000, NCL honored Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher with its highest honor, the Trumpeter Award. Most recently, the 18th Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, also a Trumpeter Award recipient, worked with the League to support and promote our medication adherence campaign, Script Your Future.

President Obama’s Surgeon General nominee is widely respected as a physician and a public health expert. He has degrees from Harvard and Yale, and is an eminently qualified physician. We think he is moderate and thoughtful in his positions, and brings impeccable credentials to the post.  The National Consumers League calls upon the Senate to confirm Vivek Murthy to the post of Surgeon General of the United States.



About the National Consumers League 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its 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 commends President Obama for regs on overtime and updating other labor laws – National Consumers League

March 14, 2014

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

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds President Obama for directing the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to revise and update outdated, Depression-era overtime laws and tighten the loopholes in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). NCL, the nation’s pioneering worker and consumer advocacy organization, commends the President for using his executive power to call for this positive step forward for millions of American workers.

“President Obama’s directive is a giant step for the millions of Americans who work full time and yet still struggle to make ends meet,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL. “With Congress conflicted on these issues, an executive order will require businesses to pay workers what they earn for any additional hours they work.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who had previously served as NCL secretary, crafted the FLSA, which was signed into law in 1938. It was created to give Americans basic workplace rights including a federal minimum wage, overtime protections, bans against child labor, and record-keeping mandates to keep businesses honest about the number of hours employees worked.

When originally constructed, the overtime statute in the FLSA included a pay threshold and three job classification exemptions: executive, professional, and administrative. Today, many employers avoid paying their employees overtime by exploiting the exemptions in the FLSA. By manipulating job titles and descriptions, employers avoid paying many employees who work over a 40-hour workweek one and a half times the normal hourly rate for the extra hours.

Millions of other workers are exempt from overtime rules if they make more than $455 a week or $23,660 a year, which is still below the poverty line for a family of four.

“For decades, Americans’ wages have stagnated, even as worker productivity has soared,” said Michell McIntyre, NCL’s Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights. “The changes in the exemptions to overtime pay could make all the difference for families struggling to make ends meet. This is an important step. It is time to give Americans a raise.”


About the National Consumers League 
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its 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.