The National Consumers League mourns the death of NCL Awardee, labor champion and writer, Barbara Ehrenreich

September 6, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Consumers League is mourning the death of one of our Trumpeter Awardees, best-selling author of Nickel and Dimed, and hourly worker champion Barbara Ehrenreich.  Ehrenreich accepted NCL’s Trumpeter Award in 2008, which was presented because of her writing on behalf of the working poor.  In Nickel and Dimed,  Ehrenreich traveled around the country working minimum wage jobs and writing about how very difficult that was to do; she wrote a compelling narrative about impossibility of making ends meet, even as a single woman, living on jobs like restaurant server and hotel maid. She described in graphic detail the daily grind and many demeaning experiences she encountered.

NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg speaks to her immense impact on the labor industry, “Barbara Ehrenreich talked the talk, and walked the walk with her long and admirable history of raising awareness about the plight of working Americans.  Nickel and Dimed showed the world just how difficult it is to live on subsistence wages, find housing, health care, buy food, own a car and then have to go to work. She pulled the veil off of the faulty notion that working people can comfortably live off minimum wage jobs. We owe her a debt of gratitude for putting her life on hold to work these jobs and write about the economic reality for working people.”

NCL was honored to have Ehrenreich at our annual Trumpeter Dinner in 2008, present her with the Trumpeter Award, and we mourn her passing this past Labor Day holiday.

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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 www.nclnet.org.

Airline hotel and meal voucher commitments are a positive step forward

September 2, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Consumers League (NCL) welcomes the major U.S. airlines’ commitments to provide meals and hotel rooms for travelers stranded due to delays within air carriers’ control. This announcement comes as consumer and passenger rights organizations have advocated for greater protections for travelers within the aviation industry.

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

“In July 2021, NCL, alongside a coalition of other consumer and passenger rights groups, met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. A key ask to him was to publicly and personally make the DOT’s airline consumer protection work a priority. As today’s announcement shows, he is taking our challenge to heart. Absent pressure from the Department of Transportation, driven by an unprecedented wave of consumer complaints, it is hard to imagine that the biggest U.S. airlines would have made a commitment to provide meal and hotel vouchers and reimbursement to stranded consumers. While there is much more work to be done achieving a range of consumer protection reforms in the airline industry, today’s news is a positive step forward.” 

 

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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 www.nclnet.org.

National Consumers League applauds President Biden’s plan to cancel $10,000 in federal student loan debt to millions of Americans

August 24, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Consumers League applauds President Biden’s decision to relieve student borrowers of billions of dollars in educational debt and to extend the federal loan repayment moratorium. By cancelling $10,000 in student debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 and cancelling $20,000 for borrowers who received Pell Grants, this administration is providing direct aid to consumers suffering from the plight of educational debt.

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

“President Biden is providing critical assistance to millions of borrowers across the country. Importantly, this executive order will work to negate the impact of student debt that disproportionately affects women and Black borrowers. As consumers face increased rents, grocery costs, fuel prices, and even student loan interest rates, educational debt cancellation will help provide relief on strained household budgets by reducing—and in many cases eliminating—student debt costs.”

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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 www.nclnet.org.

My Juneteenth federal holiday didn’t turn out the way I hoped. It was even better!

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This week we celebrated the Juneteenth federal holiday and one that the National Consumers League will continue to honor into the future.

Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when a union general and his soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas to tell the enslaved community that they had been emancipated from slavery; the plantation owners didn’t bother to give them the news.

At last, these Texans were free human beings.

Sadly, this happened two years after the 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln.

Fast forward to June 20, 2022. While watching the Today Show, I saw a 95-year-old inspiration named Miss Opal Lee, appropriately from Texas, who made it her life’s work to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The piece featured Miss Opal’s photos from her childhood when she had celebrated Juneteenth in Texas.

Most of the U.S. didn’t know about the importance of this date, but, in Texas, the black community has been honoring Juneteenth for decades – with parades and music and traditional foods. The Today Show clip featured Miss Opal in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the bill creating the federal holiday; she is standing next to him surrounded by members of Congress.

This heroic former schoolteacher was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Not only did she march to Washington with more than one million signatures to get Juneteenth recognized, but she created a food bank out of her kitchen that has grown into a huge warehouse. She launched a farm to feed thousands in the community.

I was in awe of this incredible woman and was so grateful to learn about her role in the adoption of this federal holiday.

Later that day, I was looking forward to celebrating local events around D.C., and headed down to the National Museum of African American of History and Culture. Sadly, I couldn’t get in because the museum had sold out of timed passes. I was so disappointed.

On the ride home from the museum, I happened to see horses being put back into a trailer by African American men dressed as union soldiers. I stopped and got out to see what was happening; they told me this was the end of a parade from 14th street down to Howard University.

Then they said, “Miss Opal came too.”

“Miss Opal?”, I asked. Was this Miss Opal the same amazing lady who made it her life’s work to make Juneteenth a federal holiday?

“That is her over there,” they told me.  I asked if I could meet her – it turned out she was in a car near the food trucks. She rolled down her window and we talked for a few minutes about how she made Juneteenth happen. I shook her hand and thanked her for being a true American hero; for finally getting this most important federal holiday on the calendar; for teaching school and; for her incredibly uplifting spirit. She was just as inspiring in person. I hope I have her energy and spirit when I’m 95 years old!  She invited me to come down and see her in Fort Worth, which I might just do!

Serendipity in Washington, D.C.

Juneteenth didn’t turn out like I thought it would, but I feel so honored to have met this towering figure in American history. Go Miss Opal Lee!

National Consumers League urges Congress to strengthen Bipartisan Privacy Bill

June 17, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Consumers League is encouraged by the bipartisan, bicameral American Data Privacy and Protection Act (“ADPPA”), a long-overdue step to protect the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information. However, there remain some concerns that must be addressed to ensure that the bill provides basic consumer remedies for failure to comply with the rules of the road and preserve the best aspects of the privacy laws that are already in place in the states.

“The lack of a comprehensive data protection law has left Americans at the mercy of criminal hackers who are making billions of dollars stealing consumers’ personal data,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “At the same time, many companies have built their business models on the collection of sensitive data that exacerbates existing inequities in our economy.”

NCL has long pushed for stronger protections for consumer data. In 2011, NCL supported a bill to regulate the use of sensitive location data. In the wake of the Target data breach in 2013, NCL launched the #DataInsecurity Project to raise awareness about how the lack of data security standards increases the risks to consumers of identity fraud and other scams. Most recently, NCL released a genetic privacy reform roadmap detailing actions Congress, the Biden administration and industry could take to protect consumers’ genetic data.

NCL shares the concerns about the ADPPA raised by privacy and consumer advocates. Importantly, we believe that the bill’s private right of action provisions should be strengthened and a prohibition on mandatory binding arbitration clauses should be included in the legislation.

In addition, NCL supports allowing states with strong privacy and data security laws to preserve those provisions where they provide additional consumer protections.  NCL also supports preserving the Federal Communication Commission’s role in regulating the privacy practices of common carriers. Given the bill’s proposal to expand the role of the Federal Trade Commission in protecting consumer data, Congress must ensure that the FTC has the resources it needs to be effective in that role.

“We applaud members of Congress for putting forward a bipartisan bill to provide comprehensive privacy and security protections,” said John Breyault, NCL’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Compromises by all sides in this debate have led us to this moment. There is much promise in this legislation, but key consumer protections need to be addressed before the bill moves forward.”

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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 www.nclnet.org.

NCL urges Judiciary Committee to report the Equality Act to the full Senate

June 10, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

 

The Honorable Dick Durbin

Chair

Committee on the Judiciary

Unites States Senate

 

The Honorable Chuck Grassley

Ranking Member

Committee on the Judiciary

Unites States Senate

 

Dear Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley,

Over a year has passed since the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held hearings for HR5, also known as the Equality Act. The National Consumers League (NCL), the United States’ oldest consumer advocacy organization, urges the Judiciary Committee to report the Equality Act to the full Senate without further delay. This legislation would codify important consumer protections for the LGBT community, notably in housing, credit lending, and public accommodations.

Non-discrimination is a core component of consumer protection that all other safeguards rely upon; access to service is the most basic consumer issue. Studies have shown the challenges still facing the LGBT community, with over half of LGBT Americans having faced discrimination generally and 22% of LGBT consumers having experienced housing discrimination.[1] Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, every individual deserves access to housing and financial services, as well as the ability to purchase goods and services at restaurants, lodging, and retail stores.

By passing the Equal Rights Act, Congress can cement consumer protections for the LGBT community nationwide. NCL urges the Judiciary Committee to finish their work on the Equality Act and report this critical legislation to the full Senate.

[1] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Poll finds a majority of LGBTQ Americans report violence, threats, or sexual harassment related to sexual orientation or gender identity; one-third report bathroom harassment. (2017). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/poll-lgbtq-americans-discrimination/

 

Sincerely,

Sally Greenberg

Executive Director

National Consumers League

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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 www.nclnet.org.

 

MLK reflections – National Consumers League

Today we celebrate the birthday of one of America’s greatest leaders, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 87. What a different place America might have been had he lived. He was gunned down in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was rallying in support of the sanitation workers’ strike after workers had been killed on the job due to unsafe conditions. MLK is revered by National Consumers League and labor leaders alike. 

What made MLK such a great leader? He rose above the fray, and he made connections with issues beyond his own sphere. He opposed the Vietnam War, he fought the militant and divisive image of Malcolm X, the public face of the Nation of Islam, he spoke against anti-Semitism, and he drew connections between worker protections and the civil rights movement. 

Dr. King’s legacy as a civil rights icon and irreplaceable voice of humanity and nonviolence is very much with us today. 

As I watched the 2015 Kennedy Center Awards, I thought of Dr. King and how I think he would have been proud of the mosaic of honorees that night. He played an enormous role in making all of this possible by waging a struggle for civil rights for all Americans. And though there is much work to be done and American has many problems ahead of us, the Kennedy Center Awards evening showcases America’s best qualities: 

George Lucas, the Star Wars creator and director, a hugely original creative mind and a white man – married to an African American woman; Cicely Tyson, a 90 year old African American actress with a stunning list of credits who is currently – yes currently – acting in the Broadway show The Gin Game with James Earl Jones.

Rita Moreno, an 84 year old Puerto Rican dancer, singer and actress who has won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and Tony award

Seiji Ozawa, Japanese-born conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra who served for 29 years in that role

Carole King, a Jew from Brooklyn whose iconic hits like “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Up on the Roof” have been recorded by African American singers like the Drifters and singers like Ben E King; and whose song “Natural Woman” was stunningly performed by Aretha Franklin on the Kennedy Center Stage before an audience that included America’s first African American President and first lady.  

We miss the wisdom and presence of the great leaders, like Dr. King, but his legacy is with us every day.

Workplace safety standards highlighted in Labor Day accident – National Consumers League

Why is it important to enforce workplace safety standards ? This weekend – ironically, when we were all celebrating Labor Day – a young immigrant from Ecuador named Fernando Vanegas was killed when the retaining wall designed to hold back soil on the base of a building collapsed on him. He was only 19 years old and had previously told his mother about many dangerous conditions at his workplace. “He would always tell me about how he had close calls,” she recounted.

There’s been a surge of fatal workplace incidents in New York City this year, according to the New York Times. The inspectors who investigated the fatality said that basic safety protections were not implemented, including providing adequate building support, compromising the whole structure. Several complaints about this worksite had landed at city offices and the cases were closed once the builder provided paperwork saying problems were being addressed. Inspectors had also cited the building in May and again in July for violations, but apparently the fines and penalties didn’t deter this contractor from exposing workers to dangerous conditions. Clearly the enforcement system isn’t working very well.

When enforcement is lax, employers and builders cut corners. This is the oldest story in the book, and this young man’s parents are mourning the loss of their son, whose only goal was to contribute to the family finances. Going to work shouldn’t mean taking your life into your hands. City inspectors across the country need to shut down construction sites that continually violate the law. It’s so sad for Mr. Vanegas and his family that he had to pay the price with his life. 

Labor Day thoughts: Minimum wage and the Presidential election – National Consumers League

With the celebration of Labor Day this weekend, it’s a good time to ask what role the minimum wage will play in the Presidential campaign. This is right up our alley; NCL’s great leader Florence Kelley originally wrote and helped to pass the first minimum wage laws in the states. And this remains an issue near and dear to NCL.

Hillary Clinton is calling for a wage of $12 an hour by the year 2020. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, the two other declared Democratic presidential candidates, are pushing for $15 by 2020. They are both too low if you look at what is needed to pay basic costs of living – for only one person – in 14 states and Washington DC. Right now it’s $12 an hour!

Among Republican candidates, the views are all across the board. Some want to raise it, some want to keep it at the current $7.25 and Carly Fiorina says the federal minimum wage law should be abolished. Uh huh – we’ve been there before. Florence Kelley is rolling over in her grave I’m sure! None of the following states have any minimum wage laws: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. In Georgia and Wyoming, the minimum wage is $5.15. So without a federal floor for minimum wage, employers in those states would be free to – and would – pay poverty wages. Kelley and her allies saw the pennies paid to the poorest most exploitable in the workforce and worked for a minimum.

Rising profits should mean rising wages but unfortunately the market doesn’t work that way. Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius, told Bloomberg news that in 2013 after-tax corporate earnings grew by as much as 11 percent per share. Hatzius went on to say that U.S. workers didn’t get much of a raise in 2013, leaving more profits left over for shareholders. Overall, hourly wages grew by just 2 percent in 2013, five times slower than corporate profits. So much for the market regulating wages.

We think the candidates, especially the democrats, need to recalibrate their numbers and raise substantially the minimum wages they are calling for in the years to come. That would be a great Labor Day gift, especially to the lowest paid of America’s workers.

The Greatest American Heroine You’ve Never Heard of: Why Florence Kelley Should Be the Woman on the Next $10 Bill – National Consumers League

This post appeared on the Huffington Post on July 6, 2015

The Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Jack Lew, recently announced that the newly re-designed $10 bill, slated for 2020, would feature the face of a woman to honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The announcement set the Internet ablaze with suggestions for which historical U.S. woman would adorn the new bill.

It’s about time! While this will not be the first time a woman has graced U.S. currency – Martha Washington was featured on the dollar bill in the 19th Century and Pocahontas was in a group photo that appeared on the $20 bill from 1865 to 1869 – it’s been way too long since we had an American heroine appear on paper money. Queen Elizabeth’s likeness is on bills in 15 Commonwealth countries. Frida Kahlo is featured on Mexico’s 500-peso note. Eva Peron has been celebrated on Argentina’s 100-peso note since 2012. Opera star Dame Nellie Melba appears on the Australian 100-dollar note.

Lew has said that he will be choosing a woman who “has played a major role in our history who represents the theme of democracy.” One of the National Consumers League’s founders, Florence Kelley, was a champion for equal rights and consumer protections who fought her whole life for democracy and would be an ideal candidate – a true unsung female American hero.

Though her actions are not as popularized as other women in U.S. history, she has indeed played a major role in the creation of modern America and worked tirelessly to raise awareness and influence public policy to fight the oppressive working conditions for women, children, and all workers. She may not be as well recognized in popular culture, but we all take for granted the 8-hour workday that she helped to establish and the other groundbreaking reforms in labor and consumer products for which she was responsible. Her work left a very visible mark on our nation’s history, and we now have a chance for her legacy in social justice to be acknowledged.

Here are the top ten reasons we should put #KelleyOn10.

1. Influence. Justice Felix Frankfurter said about Florence Kelley: she “had probably the largest single share in shaping the social history of the United States during the first 30 years of the 20th Century.”
2. Workers rights. The daughter of William D. Kelley, a co-founder of the Republican Party in 1859 and a U.S. Congressman from Philadelphia, 1860-1890, she was a charismatic speaker who convinced her contemporaries that women and children needed labor protections at a time when unions would not represent their interests.
3. Pioneer. After graduating from Cornell University in 1882, and obtaining a law degree from Northwestern University in 1893, she co-founded in 1898 a leading progressive era organization – the National Consumers League (NCL)– and headed the NCL until her death in 1932.
4. Progressive leadership. She fostered the creation of 64 local consumers’ leagues throughout the United States, and traveled extensively to orchestrate connections between local leagues and the national league, promoting a social justice agenda that was widely adopted by the women’s suffrage movement and other progressive movements nationwide. She inspired and mentored future Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins; Eleanor Roosevelt followed in Kelley’s footsteps.
5. Ending child labor. She was the leading champion of eradicating child labor in the United States from 1898-1932.
6. 40-hour work week. She promoted the enactment of state wage and hours laws for women, which created the foundation for the 40-hour week and minimum wage law incorporated within the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938.
7. Universal health care. She led the campaign for enactment of the first federal health care bill, the Welfare and Hygiene of Maternity and Infancy Act, more commonly known as the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921
8. NAACP leadership. In 1909 she was one of the original organizers, with W.E.B. DuBois and others, of the NAACP and served on the association’s board for 20 years. Kelley fully supported racial equality, writing in a 1926 letter, “I think there should be a written pledge from every hotel that there will be no race discrimination. Certainly I should not dream of staying in any hotel which refused to my fellow members either bed or board.”
9. Women’s suffrage. She was a prominent leader in the battle for women’s suffrage, served a Vice President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1902, and in 1920 co-founded the League of Women Voters.
10. Consumer safety. She advocated for the Pure Food and Drugs Act and Meat Inspection Act of 1906, pioneering consumer protection laws that laid the groundwork for the creation of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.