Advocates call on DOT to mandate easier airfare cost comparison

January 25, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – Yesterday, the National Consumers League (NCL) and a coalition of six consumer and passenger rights organizations filed comments with the Department of Transportation (DOT) in support of proposed regulations requiring the earlier disclosure of common airline ticket add-on fees. DOT’s proposed rules would require airlines and ticket agents to display fees associated with checked baggage, ticket changes and cancellations, and family seating on the first page of airfare search results. 

“It is extremely difficult and time-consuming for consumers to do accurate apple-to-apples comparisons when shopping for airline tickets,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud. “DOT’s proposed rules would promote competition by making it harder for airlines and ticket agents to hide some of the most egregious add-on fees in the fine print at the end of the ticket-buying process.” 

“The airlines love to nickel-and-dime passengers with junk fees, and in far too many cases travelers are hit with sticker shock when they finally realize the true cost of flying,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation & Travel at American Economic Liberties Project. “We urge the DOT to address transparency of fees, and to eliminate certain fees altogether. This applies especially to fees for families with young kids to sit together, an issue Congress directed the DOT to address in 2016.” 

“If airlines are going to continue to devise and impose all sorts of unreasonable fees, they must be required to reveal each fee when travelers first search for price and availability,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection. 

“Airlines have come up with all sorts of extra fees over the years: baggage fees, change fees, seat selection fees and more. We believe airlines should be required to disclose these fees before someone begins the actual booking process, not at the end. And these fees should be disclosed up front in real time to ticket agents that provide fare information. This would encourage price competition and ultimately give consumers more transparency in pricing,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog for Public Interest Research Group. 

To view the coalition’s full comments to DOT, click here. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 https://nclnet.org.

NCL applauds bipartisan interest in reining in ticketing monopoly 

January 24, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding a landmark hearing examining how Ticketmaster-Live Nation’s monopoly harms fans and competition in the live event industry.  

“Just as we warned in 2009 when the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger was proposed, the company has become a behemoth that controls many aspects of the live event industry and wields its market power ruthlessly,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. Ticketmaster sells tickets for 80 out of the top 100 arenas. Their presence in nearly every aspect of the industry—from event promotion to venue operationsmakes it almost impossible for small, independent competitors to succeed. This is a monopoly. 

Consumers often have no choice but to deal with Ticketmaster when seeing their favorite artist or sports team. This makes some of the corporation’s business practices inescapable, such as adding 78% to the ticket price in hidden fees. 

Today’s hearing showed that there is a strong support for free markets—regardless of party,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault. Senators from both sides of the aisle centered the experiences of fans, artists, independent promoters and venue owners, recognizing the harms caused by Live Nation’s market consolidation. Witnesses repeatedly described a pervasive fear of retaliation if they and other live event industry stakeholders speak up about Live Nation’s monopolistic practices. It is our hope that their testimony gives more actors in the live event industry confidence that Ticketmaster-Live Nation is not above the law. 

Since 2009, NCL has opposed the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. Most recently, NCL has been working as part of the Break Up Ticketmaster coalition to urge the Department of Justice to enforce existing federal antitrust laws and take action against Ticketmaster to increase competition in the marketplace. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 https://nclnet.org.

NCL urges FTC to prohibit user review manipulation

January 10, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The National Consumers League (NCL) this week filed comments in support of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulation to ensure the reliability of user reviews. In its comments, NCL urged the FTC to prohibit user reviews from individuals who did not purchase a product or service (or are misrepresenting their experiences with a product or service) and to prohibit sellers from manipulating consumer reviews. In addition, the League advocated for the Commission to require hosts of user reviews to implement measures to protect review integrity, such as requiring purchase verification.  

“Consumers frequently cite user reviews as a key factor when deciding what to buy,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “As a result, fake endorsements steer billions of dollars each year towards certain products and away from competitors. The impacts range from buyers receiving goods of poorer quality than expected to serious safety risks.” 

NCL also encouraged the FTC to prohibit the commercial exploitation of social media engagement metrics, such as buying and selling likes, comments, or shares. Such practices can be used to boost fraudulent product reviews and endorsements, allowing bad actors to manipulate social media platforms to broaden their reach. 

“Right now, it is extremely easy to spend a few dollars and receive hundreds of likes, followers, or other signals that a product or service is of high quality,” said Eden Iscil, NCL Public Policy Manager. “By jumpstarting a post with purchased engagement, the content has a greater chance of reaching a real audience—and being believed by them. Such practices not only affect consumers making purchasing decisions but can also be used to spread other types of misinformation.” 

The FTC initiated this regulatory process following NCL’s request for greater federal enforcement against organized user review fraud, which can be found here 

NCL’s full comments to the FTC can be found here. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 https://nclnet.org.

National Consumers League urges Southwest Airlines to invest in consumer protection

December 27, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The poor performance of domestic airlines, namely Southwest Airlines, over the holiday season is yet another call to action for reform to the air travel industry. The National Consumers League (NCL) strongly urges Southwest Airlines to take all actions necessary to make both consumers and its employees whole, as well as to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring in the future. Additionally, the federal government should not delay in implementing the number of pending regulations that would strengthen consumer protections in air travel, including a proposed rule that would require refunds for stranded travelers. 

Air carriers should function to alleviate consumer and employee issues, not exacerbate them. Reports of passengers unable to contact Southwest Airlines representatives to rebook cancelled flights or find lost baggage are distressing and emblematic of longstanding issues within the industry. Moreover, complaints from airline employees of outdated operations systems further disrupting service also highlight the lack of action taken to mitigate the issues faced by both consumers and workers over the holidays. 

NCL urges Southwest Airlines to issue refunds to affected consumers without delay. Additionally, Southwest Airlines should invest significantly in improving customer service capacity and updating operations technology.

The travel meltdowns that are occurring this holiday season are another reminder that we must reform the governmental policies surrounding air travel. NCL is pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking into Southwest Airlines’ performance, especially as it is the sole governmental agency with oversight of air carriers. 

The DOT should act quickly to promulgate regulations that require refunds to consumers in the event of a significant delay or cancellation, alongside other pending rules. Additionally, the DOT should implement recommendations from consumer advocates and state attorneys general, including a proposal to require airlines to provide travelers accommodations for meals and overnight lodging when necessary.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 https://nclnet.org.

National Consumers League adds Identity Theft Resource Center ‘Live-Chat’ to Fraud.org to help identity crime victims

December 13, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, and the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC), a nationally recognized nonprofit organization established to support victims of identity crime, are partnering up to help victims of identity crimes.

NCL integrated the ITRC’s live-chat function into fraud.org, a project of the NCL to give consumers the information they need to avoid becoming victims of telemarketing and internet fraud. The ITRC live-chat function on fraud.org will help assist victims of identity crimes related to data breaches, identity theft and identity fraud. It will also provide people with another resource during the holiday shopping season when there is an increased risk of identity crimes. According to Forbes, Adobe predicts a 2.5 percent growth in online sales from November 1-December 31, when identity criminals may look to take advantage of increased online activity.

The ITRC’s staff of identity advisors provides preventative information and customized plans to address all types of identity concerns. ITRC advisors assist victims live during business hours or through direct follow-up when contacted after hours and on weekends.

“NCL is always looking for new ways to reach consumers and better protect them from fraud,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at NCL. “By increasing the number of options that individuals can use to contact us, we can help a greater number of people. Thanks to ITRC, consumers with differing accessibility needs, levels of phone service, and communication preferences will find it easier to get in touch with a fraud expert.”

“The NCL and ITRC have a long history of mutual respect and shared commitment to victims of identity crimes,” said Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “Adding the NCL to the group of organizations and government agencies using live-chat to help victims continues our fight for small businesses and consumers to protect them from identity criminals. We believe giving more people direct access to our live identity experts – at no cost – will help prevent identity fraud and provide the support needed to recover from these crimes.”

NCL is the third organization the ITRC has partnered with to integrate the ITRC live-chat function on its website. Earlier in 2022, the ITRC embedded its chat into the San Diego District Attorney Office and New Mexico Office of the Attorney General websites.

Since the ITRC’s chat function was launched on fraud.org, three (3) percent of the ITRC’s total cases have come from its website. Implementing the ITRC’s live-chat function provides victims access to support when it is convenient and in a manner people often prefer – a live-chat rather than a phone call. ITRC advisors will:

  • Ask what happened
  • Ask a series of questions to help determine the scope of the problem
  • Provide a victim or curious consumer with a detailed, custom plan of action steps to take

Currently, most ITRC cases from fraud.org involve scams, primarily lottery and prize scams (mostly about criminals pretending to be Publisher’s Clearing House representatives) and existing account takeover of a bank or credit card account.

The ITRC is committed to providing access to everyone seeking help. Read about the Center’s accessibility initiative here. Anyone can contact an advisor by visiting www.idtheftcenter.org or calling toll-free at 888.400.5530.

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 https://nclnet.org.

About the Identity Theft Resource Center  

Founded in 1999, the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a national nonprofit organization established to empower and guide consumers, victims, business and government to minimize risk and mitigate the impact of identity compromise and crime. Through public and private support, the ITRC provides no-cost victim assistance and consumer education through its website live-chat idtheftcenter.org  and toll-free phone number 888.400.5530. The ITRC also equips consumers and businesses with information about recent data breaches through its data breach tracking tool, notified. The ITRC offers help to specific populations, including the deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision communities.

The National Consumers League supports Sunshine in Litigation Act to limit court secrecy before DC City Council

December 12, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of National Consumers League testified on December 8, 2022 support of a bill before the District of Columbia City Council entitled “The Sunshine in Litigation Act”. The bill is before the COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY & PUBLIC SAFETY NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING. The link here is here for the Virtual Hearing via Zoom To Watch Live: https://www.facebook.com/CMcharlesallen/.

Councilmember and Chairperson Charles Allen’s notice of the hearing explains that the stated purpose of Bill 24-0933, the “Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2022”, is to prohibit confidentiality agreements and protective orders in civil actions involving defective products or environmental conditions that are likely to cause significant harm, and to allow members of the public to challenge agreements and orders that violate the act.

There’s never been a federal bill to prevent secret settlements, despite many years of efforts in Congress, but if DC passes the Sunshine In Litigation Act, the District will join a number of other states that have adopted some form of the SILA bill.  As the bill’s main sponsor, Councilmember Cheh, noted  in her letter submitting the proposed D.C. Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2022, individuals and governments began filing cases many years ago charging opioid manufacturers with intentionally misleading doctors about the dangers of prescription opioids.

However, because judges in these cases agreed to the parties’ request to require that the court records remain under seal, the clear evidence of the manufacturers’ wrongdoing and of the dangers of opioids uncovered by the plaintiff parties was kept from the public, causing great harm. NCL’s testimony discusses the hidden settlements in many types of cases, including opioids, children’s playground equipment, heart valves, poor designed porches on homes,  defective tires, and inter uterine contraceptive devices, which has meant thousands of injuries and deaths to innocent consumers who had no knowledge about the danger of these products.

NCL applauds Councilmember Allen and members of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee of the DC City Council for holding a hearing on the Sunshine in Litigation Act and urges the full Council to quickly adopt this pro consumer and pro safety legislation to protect the citizens of the District of Columbia.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 https://nclnet.org.

NCL Executive Director testifies before the DC Council in support of the Sunshine in Litigation Act

December 9, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 703-298-2614

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director, testified before the D.C. Council Committee on Judiciary & Public Safety yesterday to express support for the “Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2022.

Read her full testimony here.

Guest Blog: Urgent push to get the Senate to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by end of year

By Robin Strongin

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is real and it’s dangerous.  But, if the Senate acts quickly, it can pass S. 4431, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which provides reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum workers.

The legislation, which has already passed in the House, enjoys strong bipartisan support and has garnered wide-ranging support from business associations, the US Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, faith organizations, civil rights organizations, maternal health groups, and others.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated that “These and other efforts to protect pregnant workers and new mothers should be applauded as they demonstrate a respect for life, family, and the dignity of workers.”

NCL stands with these organizations in urging the Senate to pass the legislation.  Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is not only medically dangerous, but disruption to a woman’s career hurts her earning power and has implications for the labor supply.  More than 85 percent of women will become mothers at some point in their working lives, the majority of whom cannot afford not to work.

Despite passage of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, employer bias against pregnant women still exists, especially when it comes to employers providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.

In early February 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult conducted a survey of 2,200 adults on the prevalence of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The survey found that “pregnancy discrimination is common across race, incomes, and other demographics, causing fear about informing employers about a pregnancy and leading many pregnant workers to consider a career change. These trends are particularly elevated among younger women and those who are currently working.”

Key Results:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) mothers have considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of reasonable accommodations or fear of discrimination from an employer during a pregnancy.
  • 1 in 5 mothers (20%) say they have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
  • Adults are witnessing pregnancy discrimination in their workplaces.
  • Over 1 in 5 mothers have been afraid to tell an employer about a pregnancy.
  • A comparable portion of adults report that their partner or spouse has experienced pregnancy discrimination at work.

In their November 10, 2022 letter to the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, urging swift passage of the Senate bill, the bipartisan members underscored what pregnancy discrimination looks like, and the terrible toll it takes:  …”a warehouse employee in Tennessee who suffered a miscarriage after lifting heavy boxes and being denied light duty; a retail worker in Kansas who was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, and a hardware assembler in Ohio who was terminated after her doctor recommended she not lift more than 20 pounds.”

Advocates are raising the alarm: if the Senate doesn’t enact the bill by the end of this year, opposition from Republicans over a lack of religious exemptions could jeopardize the passage of the legislation as Republicans take over the House.

The bill that passed the House did so with a strong bipartisan vote of 315 – 101.  And the Senate bill enjoys strong bipartisanship as well, according to Senate HELP Chair, Patty Murray (D-WASH), who is working across the aisle to get it passed.

If a stand-alone vote in the Senate doesn’t materialize, backers of the bill are considering its inclusion in the year-end spending package. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) warned, “The clock is ticking… This is a bipartisan bill that’s pro-mothers, pro-healthy pregnancies, and pro-workers,”…”Let’s get it through the Senate by the end of the year.”

NCL urges FTC to use rulemaking to protect consumers’ data rights 

November 22, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Consumers League (NCL) this week filed comments in support of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulation to protect Americans’ data privacy. In its comments, NCL urged the FTC to ensure that consumers have the rights to data confidentiality, access, deletion, portability, and ethical use. Such safeguards are critical for stemming the torrent of privacy abuses that Americans have suffered in the digital age—perpetrated by both corporate and governmental entities. 

“Given our dependency on the internet to conduct our daily lives, the fact that we have gone this long without federal privacy protections is profoundly disappointing. The FTC is doing critical work in initiating this rulemaking process,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Consumers should not be at risk of identity theft, financial loss, or other privacy intrusions simply by having an internet connection.” 

The League urged the Commission to give special consideration to sensitive data types, such as location and genetic information, as well as students’ data utilized by educational technology companies. 

“With the proliferation of ed-tech, classrooms have become another area of vulnerability regarding privacy. This follows students when they take their school-issued devices and software home with them,” said Eden Iscil, NCL Public Policy Associate. “Ed-tech is a particularly worrying sector as students typically have no choice but to use the technology mandated by their institution, regardless of its insecurity.”

NCL has made fighting for consumers’ privacy a priority. Earlier this year, the League released a slate of proposed genetic privacy rights for policymakers to implement. Additionally, the organization is in its seventh year of publishing the #DataInsecurity Digest, a semi-weekly newsletter containing policy analysis and news coverage related to digital privacy. 

NCL’s full comments to the FTC can be read here. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 https://nclnet.org.

Coalition of consumer organizations urge supermarket industry to address “digital discrimination”

November 17, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, (703) 298-2614

This week a coalition of national consumer organizations urged leading supermarket chains to offer alternatives to digital-only discounts. Currently, many senior citizens and lower-income shoppers cannot take advantage of digital-only discounts due to smartphone or internet inaccessibility.

In the past couple of years more and more weekly specials advertised by some supermarkets for meat, fish, poultry, produce, and store-brand items are digital-only deals. They typically require shoppers to first go online to electronically “clip” the offers to add them to their loyalty card account to be charged the sale price in the store.

Because 25 percent of seniors don’t use the internet and 39 percent don’t have smartphones, according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, they are effectively shut out of these deals. Similarly, 43 percent of low-income households lack broadband internet access.

The consumer groups suggested multiple ways that supermarkets can offer an offline alternative to digital-only deals to accommodate both the digitally-disconnected and the digitally-challenged shoppers, which include: 

  •  Utilizing barcoded “clip or click” store coupons in store circulars so the customer can choose their preferred redemption method (e.g., Vons and The Giant Company).
  • Empowering cashiers to charge the digital price upon request.
  • Offering physical store coupons next to digital-only deals for those who did not/could not electronically “clip” the offer (e.g., H-E-B).

The letter to supermarket executives was sent on November 15 to the following chains: Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Star Market/Shaw’s, Ralphs, QFC, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Smart & Final, and Safeway.

Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, Consumer World, National Consumers League, and U.S. PIRG are the consumer organizations pressing supermarkets to expand the way they offer digital-only deals.

The full letter can be viewed here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 https://nclnet.org.