National Consumers League statement on Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME – National Consumers League

June 27, 2018

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy group, has announced its disappointment in today’s narrow 5-4 anti-worker and anti-union ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME, in which the Court ruled that unions cannot collect “fair share fees” from workers who have not joined the union but receive the benefits of organizing.

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director:

Janus v. AFSCME is the unfortunate capstone of a decades-long assault on working Americans who choose to collectively stand up to improve their workplaces and their communities and is the result of a right-leaning court that favors business interests over workers.

The potential harm caused by this decision is great and will not only be felt by union members. Millions of individual consumers who rely on government services will feel the consequences of this decision as public servants choose to leave in search of better opportunities and as the ones who remain face greater workplace insecurity.  

The Supreme Court today sided against working families. We call upon Congress to step in to correct this injustice. Powerful lobbyists may have won today, but in the end working Americans understand the importance of joining together to create better working conditions. While this decision is disappointing, we will continue to fight alongside our labor allies for a fair and just workplace and marketplace.

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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 https://nclnet.org.

Feeling the pressure to go paperless? – National Consumers League

By Melissa Cuddington, NCL public policy intern

Feel forced to go digital or pay for paper bills and statements? You are not alone. Many consumers are beginning to push back against the “going paperless” trend that has become so popular among credit card and other companies that send bills to millions of consumers.

Charging for a paper bill is not a popular practice among consumers. In fact, according to a survey conduced by Toluna and Two Sides North America, 83 percent of American consumers believe that they should not be charged more as a result of opting for a paper bill. 

NCL and Consumer Action have agreed to work with “Keep Me Posted North America” (KMPNA), based out of Chicago, and yes supported by the paper industry — to raise these concerns. We happen to agree that preserving consumer choice when it comes to choosing what type of bill you receive is important. Keep Me Posted is working in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe. 

This specific issue is of significant importance when it comes to the work that NCL does on behalf of consumers and promoting their best interests in the marketplace. The campaign is currently working to represent more vulnerable consumers: seniors, low-income populations, the disabled, and those on Indian Reservations and in rural areas who may not have access to broadband. Charging them $3.50 or more because they choose a paper bill is just plain wrong. We believe anyone who chooses a paper bill should not have to pay for it. 

This consumer issue also has relevance to the increasing occurrence of digital fraud in the United States. According to a 2017 survey done by the Competition Bureau in Canada, digital fraud is increasing at a rapid rate. From 2011 to 2016, digital fraud increased significantly from $4.95 billion to $7.95 billion. This paperless trend is increasing the likelihood that consumers are the victims of telemarketing and Internet fraud. 

It is important that consumers, especially elders and those in low-income and rural areas have the option to receive a paper bill without incurring additional costs. For many Americans, $3.50 x 12 months is extra money they don’t have — and multiply times several bills and it really adds up. Additionally, the option of receiving a paper bill is seen as a more convenient and secure form of payment. In fact, 78 percent of people keep hard copies of important documents at home, because they believe it is the safest and most secure way to store their information (Two Sides North America, 2017). 

We believe this is a good coalition and one that will push hard to preserve consumer choice and do away with the odious practice of charging consumers who can least afford it for the convenience of a paper bill.

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to www.smartlabel.org on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.

 

Leading consumer organizations decry ‘mutual fund industry giveaway’ by SEC – National Consumers League

June 6, 2018

Contact: Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry (202) 544-3088, NCL’s Sally Greenberg (202) 207-2830

Washington, DC–Despite overwhelming opposition to abandoning the default paper format delivery method for mutual fund disclosures, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday voted behind closed doors to ignore investor sentiment and allow funds, as of Jan. 1, 2021, to deliver shareholder reports online, with a paper notice of online availability sent by mail. The adoption of Rule 30e3 flips the current process on its head—investors who already have chosen to receive paper mutual fund reports will now have to take the trouble to reach out to funds to request that paper versions (continue to) be mailed to them.

The National Consumers League (NCL) and Consumer Action have worked for more than two years to ensure that the delivery of paper fund disclosures wasn’t flipped. The organizations have filed comments opposing Rule 30e3, spoken at SEC Investment Advisory Committee meetings, and urged investors to press for the paper default. They were expecting to hear a public discussion of the rule at the SEC’s public meeting on June 5, before it was pulled from the agenda the evening before and circulated for written consent from the commissioners in lieu of a meeting.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said: “We are very disappointed in the 4-1 vote—taken behind closed doors—from the SEC to make it more difficult for mutual fund investors who want paper documents to get fund disclosures delivered in paper; an SEC survey in 2011 found that one-third of consumers say they prefer paper copies of their mutual fund reports. The mutual fund industry trade association estimated in 2016 that this will save investors $2 billion in printing and mail costs over 10 years. The winners are clearly the companies, the losers are those consumers who need or want access to paper versions of fund disclosures and will have to know to sign up for paper delivery. We are disappointed the SEC didn’t take into account the extensive evidence that the change is likely to reduce investor readership of key disclosures.”

Linda Sherry, director of Consumer Action’s DC office, said: “More than 90 percent of the comments submitted to the SEC in 2016 opposed the idea to make electronic delivery the default delivery method for shareholder reports. Despite the concerns raised, which included lack of access to the internet by vulnerable populations, exposure to online fraud and difficulty of reading reports on mobile devices, the SEC chose to vote on its proposal before the public was able to read it.”

Currently (and for close to 20 years) investors have the option of requesting e-delivery. Some estimates say as many as half of all mutual fund investors have chosen e-delivery already. Those who have chosen to keep paper delivery will, under the new rule, be bothered to act to ensure paper reports keep coming. The new measure is an example of “negative consent—or “passive consent”—which means failure to take action is interpreted as agreement. This method of notification is know to decrease consumer participation and likely will reduce investor readership of important disclosures about fund performance, costs and makeup.

While the rule offers the switch to e-delivery as an “optional” method for delivering shareholder reports, it is highly unlikely that the mutual fund industry will choose to leave the status quo of paper statement delivery.

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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 https://nclnet.org.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

 

 

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.