Reflections on 2014 victories for consumers and workers – National Consumers League

As we wind down another year advocating for consumers and workers, it is inspiring to reflect on the two major victories we saw in 2014 for consumers and workers. NCL is America’s only advocacy group with a dual mission to protect both consumers and workers, and we are proud of our work advocating for these changes.


Increased minimum wages

Minimum wage increases are essential for helping get America’s low-income workers—and our economy—back on track.

As of Jan. 1, 2015, 29 states and Washington, DC will have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage. America’s lowest paid workers will see their meager hourly wages increase, and it’s not just happening in the states with the most liberal voters! Four states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota) approved minimum wage increases through ballot measures in the 2014 general election. In Illinois, voters approved an advisory measure.

NCL and our allies have been beating the drum for increased minimum wages, helping to build momentum in recent years that resulted in these real victories. We are hopeful that this trend will continue across the country to help improve the quality of life for millions of working families.

Health care accessibility advances

For consumers, access to health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will improve the nation’s quality of life. Despite conservatives’ pledge to unwind and repeal the ACA, sign-ups have surged, representing a huge amount of pent-up demand for health care across America.

As of mid-December, total enrollment for 2015 plans in this year’s open-enrollment season is about 7.44 million. Experts are saying the surge was bigger than expected and that the Obama administration will exceed its target of having 9.1 million people enrolled in the ACA by the end of 2015.

NCL was a part of this movement—last year, we hosted events across the country to educate consumers about their options and helped them sign up for the exchanges.

All told, the National Center for Health Statistics says that 11.3 percent of Americans lack health insurance, compared with 14.4 percent in 2013. That is progress! More and more Americans, especially children, are insured today than ever before—a huge victory for consumers and for our nation’s health.

There are still many obstacles to overcome for our country’s working families. With your support, we will continue to fight for livable wages, access to healthcare, and so much more in 2015.  

Shopping season is almost behind us! The season of gift returns is just around the corner

Returning merchandise successfully — and getting a refund you’re satisfied with — can pose a few challenges any time of year, but there are a number of you can do to reduce stress, ease the process, and increase the odds of a successful transaction. To help ease the burden of returns, NCL is offering advice for increasing the chances of painless holiday gift returns this year.

Tips for easy holiday gift returns:

  • Know a store’s return policy before you buy. When you buy, know what you’re getting into — whether the return will be in the form of cash or store credit, at full price, the price that was paid by the purchaser, or some more recent marked-down price. Know whether having the receipt factors into this so you can decide whether politely going back to the gift giver to ask for the receipt is warranted.
  • Keep a paper trail. Go to the trouble of saving receipts from the beginning and keeping them handy in case there’s a need for a return. Having a receipt dramatically increases the chances of an outcome that’s to your liking.
  • As a gift-giver, give items in their full packaging. And as a recipient, don’t open the packaging of anything you know you don’t want to keep, particularly electronics. Policies that don’t allow returns for opened electronics items are common. If they do take it back, they may withhold a certain percentage of the return price and call it a “restocking fee.”
  • Spend your gift cards. They may lose value over time, so look at the fine print and spend them before they expire.
  • Prepare yourself for the worst. Stores have been tracking customers’ return habits for years. Some retailers subscribe to services that keep track of what consumers are purchasing and bringing back in an attempt to curb consumer return fraud — the returning of stolen goods. For honest consumers, this can cause problems, as some stores limit the amount of return activity to a certain number or value of annual merchandise returns. There’s a possibility if you’ve returned a lot of merchandise, you’ll be denied.
  • Be smart. Don’t wear it. Don’t damage it. Increase the chance of having a successful return by taking care of the item on its way back to the store and being a pleasant, polite customer. The post-holidays are stressful enough. Don’t contribute with a less-likely-to-be-helped attitude.

Check out the return policy of an online purchase. You may be able to bring it in-person to the brick-and-mortar store. You may have to pay to send it back, or the vendor may have provided you with a pre-paid postage slip. Or you may not be able to return it at all. Read the delivery information and return instructions for anything you purchase online, particularly if it’s meant to be a gift.

Don’t let your new computer get filled with scammy software – National Consumers League

With the holidays upon us, many consumers will soon be unwrapping new laptops, tablets, and desktop computers. Out of the box, these new devices run great, but over time they can become clogged with all manner of scammy software. At best, these programs can degrade performance. At worst, they can lock down your new device and steal personal information.

Web browsers are a popular way that scammers gain entry to consumers’ computers. This is often done via deceptive browser tools and extensions.  These programs are typically legitimate and useful software that add new features to Web browser or otherwise alters the default Web surfing experience.  Popular examples include browser toolbars, language translators, and email notification icons.

Unfortunately, as many victims know too well, scammers also creating browser downloadables that promise one thing, but unleash a parade of horribles on unsuspecting consumers.  For example, these programs can rewire your browser settings and degrade your browser and computer performance.  They may also overlay scammy or inappropriate ads all over the web pages you visit, often covering up content that you want to see.  Even worse, these unwanted programs can introduce malware and other security and privacy threats, including stealing passwords and account login information.  And in many cases, they are impossible to get rid of without expert (read: expensive) help.

 So, what else can consumers do? Here are some tips for spotting and avoiding being a victim:

  • Keep your browser and operating system up to date. Most operating systems and software will notify you when it’s time to upgrade – don’t ignore these messages and update as soon as you can. Old versions of software can sometimes have security problems that criminals can use to more easily get to your data.

  • Know what you are downloading. Software from unfamiliar third parties may contain unwanted add-ons or malware. Be sure to know from where the software originates and only download it from a reputable source or a well-known app store.

  • Review Installation Options. When you download programs and extensions, pay attention to the fine print details and any auto-checked checkboxes. Make sure that you understand what programs are being installed.

  • Read the User Agreement. In addition to only downloading software from a reputable source, also be sure to read disclosures on the download site to understand exactly what you’re installing. Don’t install software from sites your browser tells you may contain malware or software bundled with “additional offers” unless you fully understand what is in them.

  • Recognize the signs of infection. Here are some clues that a suspicious program is affecting your browser:
    • Your browser doesn’t block pop-up ads from showing
    • Your homepage, startup page, or default search engine has changed to a site you don’t recognize
    • Unfamiliar extensions or toolbars are added to your browser
    • The browser’s desktop shortcut opens an unfamiliar website
  • Remove scammy software. Routinely scan your computer for malware with antivirus software you trust.

  • If you get hit with a scammy download report it or the FTC.

These tips are part of the National Consumers League’s continued commitment to helping consumers keep themselves safe online. In particular, NCL’s #DataInsecurity Project raises awareness about the need for reforms aimed at better protecting consumer data and calls on our policymakers to act now to strengthen cybersecurity standards.

Group praises Marlboro move to ban child work under 16 – National Consumers League

December 17, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC – In a major step towards eliminating child labor in American tobacco production, the largest tobacco company in the United States announced that it will require its suppliers to prohibit children under 16 years of age from working in their tobacco fields. The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, is praising Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris USA and makers of Marlboro cigarettes, for taking a leadership role on this important issue. These changes will be implemented in 2015.

“This decision by Altria is a significant step towards protecting American children in our tobacco fields,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “The negative health consequences for children working in these fields are well documented. Thousands of children routinely suffer from vomiting, dizziness, and headaches symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Other tobacco companies including R.J. Reynolds, America’s second-largest tobacco producer, must follow Altria’s lead.”

“We believe that no one under 18 should work in tobacco fields in the United States or abroad,” said Greenberg. “While we applaud this step forward, Altria has a lot of work to do to ensure that its suppliers enact the policy effectively. We’d love to see a detailed plan from the company on how it hopes to carry out this difficult task.”

Under US law, children as young as 12 can legally work unlimited hours in agriculture if that work does not interfere with school. It is time we close the loopholes that allow these glaring injustices.

The Child Labor Coalition, a group of more than 35 organizations working together to end child labor domestically and abroad, was founded and has been co-chaired by NCL since 1989. 


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

NCL applauds confirmation of Dr. Murthy as ‘Nation’s Top Doctor’ – National Consumers League

December 16, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC – The nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization is lauding the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy as U.S. Surgeon General after a 17-month political battle. On Monday, the Senate voted 51-43 to confirm Murthy to a post that had been vacant since July 2013. The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, works closely with the Surgeon General’s office on a variety of public health policy initiatives.

“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. This vote was long overdue. Dr. Murthy is a widely respected physician and public health expert who can nobly fill the duties of the office of the Surgeon General. He is a leader, innovator, and entrepreneur in promoting public health,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “For more than a year, many in Congress held the Surgeon General post hostage as confirmation votes were continuously delayed. We are pleased to have an ally and highly qualified public health expert occupying post as important as the nation’s top doctor.”

The National Consumers League has worked closely with the Surgeon General on medication adherence through its Script Your Future medication adherence campaign. Then-acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak spoke at the Script Your Future annual meeting in Washington, DC this November.

“Americans are fortunate to have someone of Dr. Murthy’s passion, creativity, and effectiveness in the job as Surgeon General,” said Greenberg. “We look forward to his tenure, to our continued joint work on medication adherence, and to supporting Dr. Murthy’s current and future initiatives as Surgeon General.”


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

2015 Data Security Policy Agenda Urges Incoming Congress to Enact Stronger Protections – National Consumers League

December 9, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Expert panel examines rising levels of fraud, identity theft and steps policymakers must take to confront the threat

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) today released its 2015 data security agenda for policymakers at a Capitol Hill briefing, where a panel of experts discussed actions the 114th Congress should take to improve data security at retailers, financial institutions, and government agencies.

“With the holiday shopping season in full swing after a year of seemingly endless data breaches, consumers are more concerned than ever about criminals stealing and exploiting their personal information,” said John Breyault, NCL’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “We want government, and particularly Congress, to address our nation’s data breach epidemic.”

Today’s discussion focused on NCL’s policy agenda, which lays out a series of measures lawmakers and regulators should take to protect consumers. It builds on the recommendations in NCL’s 2013 “State of Identity Theft” report and on innovative research NCL conducted this summer with Javelin Strategy and Research. Both studies found that the consumer impact of data breaches is severe, and that consumers urgently want government to act to protect their personal information from hackers and other criminals.

“Americans are losing confidence in our nation’s data security infrastructure as it fails again and again to protect our personal information,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “Right now, the bad guys have the upper hand. We can win this fight, but it won’t happen without leadership from Washington.”

Panelists at Tuesday’s briefing included Al Pascual, Director of Fraud and Security at Javelin Strategy and Research; Larry Clinton, President and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance; Jared Bomberg, Associate at Hogan Lovells LLP; Justin Brookman, Director of the Consumer Privacy Project and Center for Democracy & Technology; and Sam Simon, Senior Counsel to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. 

Tuesday’s policy briefing was the latest event in NCL’s #DataInsecurity Project, an ongoing campaign to raise awareness and push for action on data security in light of an historic period of data breach incidents around the globe. The initiative continues tomorrow, December 10th, when the National Consumers League will join cyber security expert and investigative journalist Brian Krebs to discuss his new book, Spam Nation, and the rising occurrence of data breaches. More information can be found here.


About the NCL #DataInsecurity Project

In 2013, there were 614 data breaches, which led to more than 550 million identities compromised. New data breaches means more identity theft and other fraud, and more consumers facing financial loss, great inconvenience, and a loss of trust in the marketplace. NCL’s #DataInsecurity Project raises awareness about the need for reforms aimed at better protecting consumer data and calls on our policymakers to act now to strengthen cybersecurity standards. 

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

The time to protect pregnant workers is now – National Consumers League

Sometimes I really hate what lawyers do to parse the plain language of the law. Last week was a case in point. I attended Supreme Court argument in the case of Peggy Young vs. UPS. Young challenged her treatment as a UPS worker expecting a baby and needing to go on light duty but the company refused to reassign her. The statute in question is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). 

As it happens, I worked on getting that bill passed as a Congressional staffer. In 1978, Congress rushed into action to overturn a blatantly absurd finding by the Supreme Court in a case called Gilbert vs. GE where the Court actually said that not making physical accommodation for pregnant women in the workplace while accommodating all sorts of other disabilities wasn’t sex discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act but simply discrimination against pregnant people.

Ahem. Pregnant people are ALWAYS women so in fact the finding in Gilbert is in fact discrimination against women. So why were we back at the Supreme Court again last week 36 years later re-litigating this case?  The PDA is very simple. It says:

To amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that section 701 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:

“(k) The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work, and nothing in section 703(h) of this title shall be interpreted to permit otherwise.

In other words, pregnant women should be treated the same for all employment related persons as those with similar in their ability or non ability to work.

Peggy Young simply wanted light duty at UPS late into her pregnancy, as ordered by her doctor. UPS wouldn’t accommodate her. But men with other similar disabilities, including those with DUIs who couldn’t drive a truck, were accommodated. This doesn’t seem like rocket science. But the Supreme Court seemed to think interpreting the PDA was very complicated. What did each word mean and why was it there? As Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS Blog commented on the case: “ The Justices probed deeply into what that section’s words — and punctuation — convey, even to the point of trying to sort out whether a semi-colon made a difference.  There did not appear to be a consensus on the meaning.”  I mean really! There was a great deal of consensus in Congress when the PDA was enacted.

Peggy Young’s plight is not isolated. Appearing before Congress earlier this year, Armanda Legros testified that she was sent home by her manager at an armored truck company, indefinitely and without pay, when she was six and a half months pregnant and had to avoid heavy lifting. She also testified that a co-worker who injured his back on the job was granted the accommodation that she was denied. UPS claims that the comparisons are between those who are injured on the job and those injured outside of the workplace, in which case UPS claims it has no duty to accommodate them and pregnant women fall into that category. 

I can tell you that when Congress enacted the PDA, it was meant to cover exactly Peggy Young’s case – if men at UPS had disabilities that are accommodated, so should Young. I’m told by Supreme Court scholars pregnant women might lose this case. How sad. In fact, UPS has changed their employee practices to ensure that pregnant workers have a right to light duty when needed. But we have to go thru this slow tortuous process to protect pregnant women’s rights nevertheless.

NCL filed an amicus brief in support of Young, joining the ACLU and many other groups. Among the arguments in the brief is that when women are forced to leave the workplace because of pregnancy-related conditions, while other workers with similar limitations are provided light duty, women suffer the very discrimination that Congress sought to eradicate. They lose income, economic security, and benefits, including health insurance, often with devastating results.

I found that listening to the case – I was in the overflow room at the Court reserved for members of the Supreme Court bar –infuriating. Why are we still debating these basic rights for working women. I only hope that the Supreme Court will look at Congressional intent in passing this bill and finally, 36 years later, give Peggy Young and all pregnant women who work the kind of accommodation Congress intended them to have when it passed the PDA. That’s good for women and good for families.

Young Americans are saddled with debt – National Consumers League

It’s not surprising – but it is worrisome – that  young Americans aren’t saving. The generation under 35, known as millennials, have a savings rate of under 2%. They are burning through their assets and going into debt. The ramifications of this are myriad:No money to move out of parents’ house, no cushion if they want to switch jobs, no money for homeownership, not to mention no money for saving for a 401k or other retirement benefits.

But this has larger implications for our economy. “They are truly a vulnerable group. They don’t have assets to buffer themselves against shocks, and they have to manage debt,” said GWU economist Annamarie Lusardi.

Yes indeed, millennial student debt is a huge drag on these young people. In 1995 borrowers under 35 had a median student debt of $6100; now that number is almost three times that size – $17,200.

It’s no wonder that millennials don’t compare well to Generation X-ers in another category  – the median millennial has a net worth of $10,400; the median Gen-Xers has $18,200 net worth, according to the Federal Reserve.

This is a sleeper issue that is going to wreak havoc on the economy in years to come. We need to support legislation like that introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren to let millennials reduce their student debt and get them out of from under this albatross and allow them to move out from the parents, save for a house and even for retirement. 

FANS Act promises to put brakes on cable bill increases – National Consumers League

December 4, 2015

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC – In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today, the National Consumers League is calling on legislators to adopt pro-consumer legislation that could slow the rising cost of cable and satellite television bills. The FANS Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would condition professional sports leagues’ antitrust exemptions on agreements to reduce programming blackouts and increase opportunities for fans to access sports over the Internet.

“Fans and non-fans alike are right to be outraged that rising sports programming costs are driving their cable and satellite bills through the roof,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “As the leagues enjoy huge profits, taxpayers are right to question what they receive in return the tax breaks, antitrust exemptions and public subsidies lavished on professional sports teams.”

By placing conditions on sports leagues’ antitrust exemptions, the FANS Act would incentivize sports leagues to ensure that games remain on the air when broadcasters and cable and satellite companies cannot come to agreement on retransmission costs. In addition, the bill would encourage leagues to make games available online in areas where consumers are unable to acquire programming due to teams’ overlapping broadcast territories. Finally, the bill would help put an end to the decades-long policy of blacking out games on local television when they don’t sell out, a goal that has already been endorsed by a unanimous vote at the Federal Communications Commission.

“Consumers are the ultimate supporters of professional sports teams,” said Greenberg. “The FANS Act is an important step in recouping some of the public benefits that the leagues have long enjoyed at taxpayers’ expense.” 

Read Greenberg’s testimony here.


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