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!

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.

This Just In

We just got word through a statement from the White House Office of the Press Secretary that today, February 28, 2008, the President signed into law H.R. 1216, the “Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007 or the K.T. Safety Act of 2007,” which requires the Department of Transportation to issue regulations related to power window safety, rearward visibility, and rollaway prevention intended to reduce the incidence of child injury and death occurring inside and near motor vehicles.

The Kids and Cars Bill is now a law! Hooray! More on this to come.

Just in Time for Fashion Week: ‘Made in Italy’ Label Questioned

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Celebrities, journalists, and buyers alike are captivated by the latest colors, textures, and trends revealed in designers’ collections during Milan Fashion Week.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the illustrious “Made in Italy” label on name brand designer goods may not mean what consumers think it does. The article draws attention to the reality that many of these designer goods are produced by sweatshop workers – in this case, many of them, Chinese immigrants – who are being subjected to horrendous working conditions.

In the last year, police raids of these Italian sweatshops have shut down various factories and workshops. Clearly more needs to be done to end the sweatshop conditions that workers across the globe are facing. Particularly troubling is that these goods are marketed as being “Made in Italy.” That’s technically true, but nowhere will consumers, who pay top dollar for these luxury items on the strength of the Made in Italy label, learn that sweatshop labor was involved in making these goods.

NCL has long championed consumer rights and worker protections and both are at stake here.  The League created the “White Label” at the turn of the 20th Century to designate factories that abided by fair labor standards. The League is also an active member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a group whose mission it is to protect workers’ rights and improve working conditions in the apparel industry worldwide by promoting adherence to international labor standards. We believe in the importance of knowing not only where the products we use are from, but also that they are made under the fair labor standards that we support. NCL has called upon clothing designers and manufacturers who employ workers under sweatshop conditions to pay workers a fair wage and provide decent working conditions for all in their employ. In the meantime, the League will continue to let consumers know the conditions under which the products they buy are made.

2007 Fraud Trends Offer Much to Ponder

by National Consumers League staff We've been working with NCL's Fraud Center staff lately to crunch some data on fraud complaints from consumers in 2007, and what we've found is amazing! This week, the Savvy Consumer blog will bring you a series of highlights of what we tracked last year: the top scams in Internet and telemarketing, victim trends, locations of crooks, etc. First things first: the Top 10 Internet Scams of 2007

  1. Fake Check Scams. Frauds in which consumers receive a realistic-seeming check from a crook as payment for something with instructions to wire a portion back. The scam has many variations, but the common thread is the wiring of money from a check that appears to be good but ultimately isn't. We were involved in a massive educational effort on these scams last year.
  2. General Merchandise. Scams involving items purchased online that either never show up or aren't as they were described.
  3. Auctions. Problems in online auctions, as reported by buyers, including items never being delivered, being a grossly different product, etc. Online auction fraud has been at or near the top of the list for years.
  4. Nigerian Money Offers. These "419" scams originated as letters but now commonly happen via email.
  5. Lotteries. Congratulations! You've won a foreign lottery and millions of fabulous dollars. All you have to do is pay us up-front for some processing fees.
  6. Advance Fee Loans/Credit Arrangers. Con artists target consumers who may have bad credit and are vulnerable to sketchy loan offers.
  7. Prizes/Sweepstakes/free gifts. See "lotteries" above.
  8. Phishing/Spoofing. We have an entire Web site devoted to this scam, wherein phishers seek personal financial information from consumers in order to perpetrate ID theft.
  9. Sweetheart Swindles. We blogged about this one recently. When Cupid strikes consumers in these scams, they end up with a broken heart and empty wallet; criminals pose as lovebirds, cultivate relationships, and make a plea for financial help.
  10. Internet Access Services. Scams surrounding email, Web site building, or Internet connection services.

Future blog: Top Telemarketing Scams of 2007

Rubbing Elbows on Capitol Hill for NCPW

By Tim McNutt, NCL Public Policy Intern

Last week, the League descended upon Capitol Hill to participate in a National Consumer Protection Week fair with hill staffers, federal, state, and local government agencies, and national consumer advocacy organizations. As a member of the NCPW steering committee, NCL meets with other orgs and agencies each fall to plan the next year’s NCPW theme and events to promote the educational week in early March.

NCPW highlights consumer protection issues and education efforts around the country. The focus of this year’s event is financial literacy, and the official week is March 2-8. Whether it is tips for shopping for a mortgage; learning to decipher credit card statements or utility bills; choosing savings or retirement plans; comparing health insurance policies, or simply learning to be a savvy consumer, NCPW has got you covered.

The fair was a great forum for National Consumers League to promote the LifeSmarts Program to members of Congress and similarly aligned organizations. LifeSmarts helps students from 6 – 12th grade test their consumer knowledge and equip them with the tools needed to be a better consumer. The educational program, whose national competition is right around the corner in April (in Minneapolis this year), was a hit with visitors and participants of the fair. Most importantly, we received positive feedback on our efforts to focus on financial literacy for school-aged consumers. Most organizations had ample information to assist adults in becoming better consumers, but few programs empowered young adults to achieve greater financial literacy.

Cheers to the League and look for more updates from your resident intern blogger soon!