The National Consumers League mourns the untimely death of Congressman Elijah Cummings

October 17, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is saddened by the untimely death of statesman and U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings. Rep. Cummings was admired by friend and foe alike, an honest broker and legislative giant who chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee and who never forgot his humble roots as the son of sharecroppers.

Rep. Cummings was in his 13th term serving as a representative of the Baltimore, MD community. As a member of the Maryland House of Delegates (1983 to 1996), he became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Cummings campaigned tirelessly for stricter gun control laws and help for those addicted to drugs.  

Congressman Cummings often said that “our children are the living messages that we send to a future we will never see.” In that vein, he was committed to ensuring that the next generation has access to quality healthcare and education, clean air and water, and a strong economy defined by fiscal responsibility. 

He served as the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, seeking to identify appropriate reforms that prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and that ensure government programs meet the needs of the American people. 

In recent months, Cummings had become a leader in President Trump’s impeachment inquiry: he didn’t hesitate to show anger, outrage, or disappointment in the actions and behavior of the administration officials. He strongly and vocally opposed the presidency of Donald Trump and was sued by President Trump in attempts to keep his business records secret. Most recently, Cummings was called upon to defend his constituents in Baltimore when President Trump made disparaging remarks about the city.  

“The whole nation will miss this remarkable man, who stood up to bullies, defended the rights of the less fortunate and underserved, but maintained his dignity and was always a gentleman and peacemaker—no matter what an opponent had to say about him and his district,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

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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.

The National Consumers League applauds House passage of FAIR Act

September 30, 2019

Bill would ban forced arbitration clauses in consumer and worker contracts

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League is applauding the groundbreaking legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives to restore legal rights to millions of American workers and consumers.

By a vote of 225-186 September 27, the House adopted the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, banning companies from forcing workers and consumers to resolve legal disputes in private arbitration—a forum essentially controlled by the company with no judge, no jury, and no oversight. 

These clauses have become ubiquitous in employment and consumer contracts, “take or leave it” contracts of adhesion that make it impossible for workers to sue their bosses in court for sexual harassment, racial discrimination, wage theft, and nearly anything else or consumers to sue when a product proves dangerous, falsely advertised or marketed or violation of privacy or other rights. Arbitration is a rigged system where workers and consumers are less likely to win their cases in private arbitration, and when they do win, they tend to get much less money than they would in court.

Outlawing forced arbitration would restore access to the courts to more than 60 million U.S. workers who have signed away their right to sue.

“Arbitration is one of the central ways in which corporate America has rigged the system against middle class families, working people,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said Friday on the House floor.

The bill will likely face some resistance from Republicans in the Senate, but passing it in the House is a victory for workers and consumers. “It’s about time our House of Representatives stood up for democracy and the little guy,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “We thank Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the House Judiciary Committee for their leadership to move this bill and restore consumer and worker rights and hold corporate wrongdoers accountable.”

As Greenberg noted, “Forced arbitration clauses are toxic for companies and employees; they embolden companies to break the law with impunity, knowing they will never be held accountable because they cannot be sued in most democratic institution in the American democracy -our courts. Passage of the FAIR Act is an essential step to this end run around protecting the rights o average Americans.”

Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, briefly explained (Source: Vox)

The FAIR Act, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would ban businesses from forcing workers and consumers to give up rights through mandatory arbitration clauses. It would also invalidate current agreements that have already been signed, but only for disputes that come up after the law goes into effect. 

The same bill was before the House last year, but did not get support from Republicans, who controlled the chamber at that time.  This time around, the challenge will be to get it through the Senate. But Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have recently shown an interest in curbing forced arbitration.

NCL applauds the House of Representatives for this historic vote and for its support for consumer and worker rights. We urge the Senate to move with dispatch, pass the bill and send it to the President’s desk for signature and enactment.

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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.

LifeSmarts launches 2019-20 season with new scholarship, community service opportunities for teens

September 18, 2019

Millions of student leaders have gained real-world knowledge through the program 

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–Today marks the official launch of the 2019-2020 season of LifeSmarts, with a new competition going live at LifeSmarts.org. LifeSmarts, a program of the National Consumers League (NCL), is a national scholarship competition and educational program for middle-school and high-school students that tests knowledge of real-life consumer issues and is helping to create a future generation of consumer-savvy adults.

“We are very excited to launch this season of LifeSmarts,” said national Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “For more than 25 years, LifeSmarts has given students the skills they need to succeed as adults. We’ve seen more than 1.5 million students gain knowledge, confidence, leadership capabilities, and team-building skills. The competition is fun, and the impact of LifeSmarts is life-long.”

LifeSmarts focuses on five main content areas:

  • consumer rights and responsibilities
  • personal finance
  • technology
  • health and safety
  • and the environment

Students are quizzed on their knowledge of these subject areas during online competition. Top-performing teams then advance to statewide competitions, and state champion teams as well as several wildcard teams advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city. The 2020 National LifeSmarts Championship will take place in the Washington, DC area April 25-28, 2020. Winning team members receive scholarships and other prizes.

Last year, students answered more than 3.5 million consumer questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. In April, the LifeSmarts state champion team from Barrington, Rhode Island, took home top honors at the 25th anniversary event in Orlando, Florida.

In addition to online, state, and national competitions, LifeSmarts recognition and awards occur throughout the program year:

  • Teams of students vie for cash prizes in the online TeamSmarts quiz, which focuses on a specific LifeSmarts content area each month from September through February.
  • Classroom mentor programs: Five $1,000 scholarships are awarded each winter to winning LifeSmarts students who become Safety Smart Ambassadors, using LifeSmarts content and UL’s Safety Smart modules to present safety messages to younger children in their communities.
  • Partnering with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), 4-H, and FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America), LifeSmarts complements these organizations’ projects, judging events, competitive events, and activities. LifeSmarts offers special opportunities for members of these student leadership organizations.
  • A new quest is open for middle school participants focusing on lithium ion button cell batteries and the risks and hazards they pose to young children. This team-building and leadership opportunity will culminate in a PSA contest among middle school LifeSmarts This project is sponsored by UL’s XPLORLABS, which helps students and teachers solve problems through science and engineering to become part of the movement to make the world a safer place.
  • Thanks to a long-standing partnership with Western Union, high school LifeSmarts participants have the opportunity to educate older citizens to avoid fraud. These LifeSmarts Fraud Ambassadors will highlight common advance-fee and fake check scams, demonstrating that education is the best protection against fraud.
  • A LifeSmarts student will win a $2,000 scholarship by writing the winning privacy essay in a contest sponsored by ITRC and CyberScout.

LifeSmarts is active in all states and the District of Columbia, where NCL is headquartered.

“We are proud of the impact LifeSmarts has made in its 25+ years of educating teens, and we are excited to continue to grow the LifeSmarts program, to educate students about financial literacy, and to create a new generation of savvy, market-ready consumers and workers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Too often traditional high school curriculum fails to teach students vital information that will be crucial once students go to college, get their first job, or move out of their parents’ house.”

In addition to hosting the official LifeSmarts competition, LifeSmarts.org provides resources for educators to supplement existing lesson plans. These include daily quizzes, educational videos, social media competitions, focused study guides, and scholarship opportunities. LifeSmarts lessons closely align with courses taught in family and consumer sciences, business, technology, health, and vocational education. Math and English teachers have also had success with LifeSmarts, as have homeschool and community educators.

Major LifeSmarts contributors include: Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Western Union, AARP, Comcast NBCUniversal, Sears Consumer Protection and Education Fund, American Express, Intuit, WSECU, CBM Credit Education Foundation, and a number of state and local sponsors.

Visit LifeSmarts.org for more information.

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About LifeSmarts

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: LifeSmarts.org, email lifesmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323.

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.

NCL: Consumers should be able to access broadcast channels for free via Locast

August 5, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Last week, the four largest broadcast networksABC, CBS, Fox, and NBCfiled suit against Locast, a free streaming service operated by the non-profit Sports Fans Coalition NY. The networks’ lawsuit seeks to block Locast’s streaming of local broadcast programming. The suit alleges that Locast violates copyright laws by failing to compensate the networks for their programming.

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

Consumers can already legally obtain free over-the-air broadcast channels via an antenna on their roofs. We think broadcasters would be better off embracing an innovative technology that allows consumers to more easily access their ad-supported content.

To secure public accessibility of broadcast signals, the Copyright Act expressly permits non-profit organizations to retransmit free over-the-air broadcasts. Locast is operated by the non-profit Sports Fans Coalition NY as a free public service. NCL supports broad consumer choice for access to local broadcast channels.

This year alone, the four largest broadcast networks are expected to generate more than $10 billion in retransmission-consent fees from cable and satellite providers that carry the networks’ programs. These fees are largely passed onto consumers in the form of higher monthly cable and satellite bills. Along with advertising that networks and local television stations sell, retransmission fees support the production of critically important local news content as well as traditional entertainment programming. 

NCL and Sports Fans Coalition (SFC) have a history of working together on a range of important consumer issues. In 2014, together we successfully petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to repeal the Sports Blackout Rule. In 2018, we jointly urged the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers in the live event ticketing marketplace by cracking down on deceptive “white label ticketing websites.” We have also worked with SFC to create a landmark “Sports Bettor’s Bill of Rights” to ensure that consumers are protected as more states move to legalize online sports betting.

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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.

Being Financially Fragile in America – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

Nearly 36 percent of working Americans could not cover an unexpected $2,000 expense within 30 days. According to a survey done by the 2015 National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), working adults (ages 25 – 60) who answered “probably not” or “certainly could not” to the question of whether they could come up with $2,000 in 30 days. Such consumers are considered “financially fragile.”

The 2015 Survey for Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED) also revealed that 41 percent of respondents are considered financially fragile when faced with an emergency expense of $400. 41 percent said they would have to charge this unexpected expense to a credit card or use money from a savings account.

These statistics are not surprising considering that during the recession of 2008, nearly 50 percent of working adults were considered financially fragile.

Who is financially fragile?

  • Women (42 percent) are significantly more likely to be economically stressed than men (29 percent)
  • Financial fragility decreases steadily with increasing income, thus, paying workers more decreases their precarious finances
  • Financial fragility is about equally distributed across age groups, although fragility is slightly higher among 40- to 49-year-olds

According to a NEFE Digest article, a number of factors can cause financial fragility. A lack of assets include things such as low borrowing capacity on credit cards, inadequate health insurance, renting a house instead of owning and lack of access to traditional bank accounts. The second is debt, including medical, education and credit card debt. Some of these issues can be addressed with improved financial literacy.

The NCL is especially interested financial fragility in the U.S. for reasons that sync up perfectly with our mission: protecting workers and paying them a fair wage and ensuring consumer protections from predatory practices like payday loans and bank fees and excessively high interest on student or auto loans. We also agree with NEFE Digest that financial literacy reduces financial risk because consumers make better, more informed decisions when they have more knowledge and information. NEFE Digest notes that better financial literacy lowers one’s likelihood of being financially fragile–regardless of age or income.

Financially literate consumers bolster the overall health of the economy. This is why programs such as NCL’s LifeSmarts program, which educates youth the environment, health and safety, personal finance, technology and their rights as consumers, are so important. Financial literacy education should start young and continue throughout adulthood. Doing so reduces the risk to all consumers that they will become financially fragile.

BlackRock: Promoting shareholder activism – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

Many consumers think of money management companies, such as BlackRock Inc., Vanguard Group, and State Street Corp., to be solely interested in the finance market and ways to strengthen their investment portfolios. Turns out this isn’t entirely the case. 

The recent action of Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc., calling on shareholders to better articulate long-term plans and spell out how their organizations can contribute to society in a positive manner, is a stellar example of a company promoting shareholder activism.

According to a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year, Fink stated that BlackRock Inc. plans toover the next three yearsdouble the size of the team that engages with other companies regarding their societal impact. Fink also states that this team will be investigating corporate strategies that can be used when collaborating with investors and shareholders.

Fink states in his annual letter that investors must “understand the societal impact of your business, as well as the ways that broad structural trends—from slow wage growth to rising automation to climate change—affect your potential for growth.”

This statement by Fink caught NCL’s eye as a positive and productive move on the part of the finance industry. It is crucial that money management companies understand their societal impact and ways in which their investments affect structural trends—such as climate change and unemployment. We hope to see other money management companies follow suit.

High school students shocked at waste uncovered during cafeteria food waste audits

I’m willing to guess that if you ask almost any student their favorite school period, the resounding answer will be “lunch!” My memories of school lunch involve scarfing down a peanut butter sandwich and quickly catching up with friends before our 30 minutes were up.

Corner grocery stores: where convenience and junk food meet

Many of us take for granted the ability to make trips to a full size grocery store. For 23.5 million Americans, accessing a full-size supermarket is a challenge. In some areas, small corner stores are often the only source of food for underserved communities.