National Consumers League

From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

Purple: The New Green?

Today we learned that the 5 dollar bill is the first to5_vertical_new.jpg get a makeover by the Federal Reserve in attempts to thwart counterfeiters. Honest Abe is still the bill's main attraction, but he's surrounded by some new security features that will make faking it more difficult, including new watermarks and changes to that little security "thread" that's woven into the bill.

More obvious than these differences, perhaps, are the numerous splashes of purple across the bill. But the color changes aren't for security reasons - they're meant to help people with visual impairments have an easier time using the money. According to an LA Times article, we should start seeing these new bills pretty quickly, as more than 200 million of them will be released in the next three weeks!

Game On!

NCL's staff is working away to prepare for our annual LifeSmarts National Championship this year from April 12-15. This year, we're heading to Minneapolis, MN, LifeSmarts Program Director, Lisa Hertzberg's hometown! The League runs the LifeSmarts program, which tests thousands of middle school and high school students nationwide on real-life consumer issues through online quizzes and live contests. High school state champs from across the nation will show off their consumer smarts on personal finance, health and safety, environment, technology and consumer rights and responsibilities April 12-15 as they compete for the national title. Here's a peek into the fun: Saturday, April 12 Teams from across the nation check-in at the hotel, go through orientation, where they get their first glimpse of the competition, and are briefed on the rules. Later that evening, the teams get to let loose at the mixer. Sunday, April 13 Competition begins. Months of studying and honing their skills through online and in-person come in handy. Monday, April 14 The competition heats up! Teams compete until only four teams are standing. Later in the day, the teams take a break from competing and take in the local scene on a fun outing. Tuesday, April 15 The competition comes down to the quarterfinals and semifinals, until the only team standing is named the 2008 LifeSmarts National Champion! The champion team receives its prizes at the Awards Banquet. We wanted to send a huge thank you to our sponsors, state coordinators, coaches and volunteers who make the LifeSmarts program all that it is! Check out the news coverage the teams have received so far, and be sure to visit to cheer on the teams during Nationals!

Strapped for cash? Join the club!

Times are tight. Seems like you can't turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or connect to the Internet without seeing news reports about consumer bankruptcies and concerns about a recession.

Lately, we’ve been hearing about consumers being so strapped for cash that they’re tapping into their 401(k) or other retirement accounts. Our friends at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States, are noticing this trend too. They’re reminding consumers to research the terms of any 401 (k) loan agreement you’re considering, including the interest rate, any fees, and other applicable terms before drawing on these accounts.

As a last resort, you may want to look into whether you qualify for a hardship withdrawal from your 401(k). This is not a quick fix; you have to apply to prove your hardship, you probably won’t have access to contributions by your employer, and there are other fine-print-type details. Read more to find out more about how this works.

Yikes! You know the economy's getting rough when people are using their retirement cash to pay for gas and other bills. We’ll keep our ear out for more information on this trend and continue to provide you with as many money-saving tips as we can.

NCPW 2008

Happy National Consumer Protection Week, everyone! As a member of NCPW’s steering committee, NCL joined other consumer advocacy organizations and government agencies in planning this year's events focused on financial literacy. This is a timely topic, just look at the news reports on the credit crunch. Consumers need greater access to the resources and educational tools to help them make savvy financial decisions. NCL offers tips to help consumers make well-informed financial decisions, avoid being defrauded, and report scams. Check back here later this week for the tips and resources that NCL offers to help consumers of all ages manage their finances wisely.

Merging Consumer and Worker Interests

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) larry-cohen-and-sally-greenberg.jpghave long held a seat on our board of directors at the National Consumers League. Today I went over to CWA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to sit down with Larry Cohen, the union’s president, and discuss some of the issues that face consumers and workers alike. High on NCL’s and CWA’s list is comprehensive healthcare reform. According to data from the most recent U.S. Census, 47 million Americans – or 16 percent of the population – have no health insurance, and that number has grown even in the last few years.

Universal health coverage has long been a priority for the League. During the 1930s, Josephine Roche, who was to become president of the League later that decade, headed President Franklin Roosevelt’s Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities. One of the Committee’s mandates was the development of a national health plan. The proposal came out in 1938, and Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) introduced the Committee’s bill in Congress the following year. (Wagner’s name is also attached to the famous Wagner Act of 1935, a law that involved the federal government for the first time in protecting the right of workers to organize and form unions. The Wagner Act also established the National Labor Relations Board.)

Today there are several comprehensive healthcare reform proposals on the table. Neither CWA nor NCL has endorsed specific plans, but I believe we share support for basic principles for reform:

  • Comprehensive Benefits
  • Affordable Coverage
  • Access for Rural, Low Income and Underserved Communities
  • Fair Financing of Plans
  • High Quality Health Care

Cohen and I also discussed National Consumers League’s supports for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a priority measure for the labor union movement. This bill, HR 800 in the House, is currently awaiting action in both the House and the Senate. EFCA provides for the certification of a union as the bargaining representative if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds that a majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit have signed written forms designating the union as its collective bargaining agent

EFCA also speeds along the process of bargaining between employer and employees for their first contract by obligating both parties to reach an agreement, through escalating procedures of mediation and arbitration, if necessary.

Finally, EFCA requires stronger penalties against employers for engaging in unfair labor practices while employees are attempting to organize or obtain a first contract. The bill mandates that the NLRB must seek a federal court injunction against an employer whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that the employer has discharged employees or discriminated against them or engaged in conduct that interferes significantly with employee rights during an organizing campaign or bargaining for a first contract.

Going back to the League’s roots, the presence of labor unions like CWA on our board and our agreement on so many issues energizes our work at the NCL for a fair marketplace for all consumers and workers alike.