You may want to read this recent blog post to clarify the concerns and uproar over so-called “pink slime” and how this unfolded. NCL also recently issued a statement, joined by several other food safety groups, including STOP and CFA, on the unfortunate loss of jobs as a result. Thanks to all consumers who read this with an eye to the science and whether this is a safe and nutritious product and not judge the product by how it looks in the production.
It’s amazing. It’s amazing that — during last week’s House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on the proposed Department of Labor’s rules narrowing the definition of “companionship” that would give more than 2 million home care workers basic labor protections — a witness had the audacity to claim that he was opposing the rules as a way to protect his workers. The congressional hearing centered around the home care industry and the workers who perform the invaluable job of taking care of our fast-growing elderly and disabled populations.
The home care industry has enjoyed the loophole in labor law that was originally carved out to exclude occasional babysitters and “elder sitters” (companions) from minimum wage and overtime laws. This loophole allowed them to skirt the basic protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. These employers do not have to pay their employees minimum wage nor overtime – allowing an employer to legally pay their workers $2 an hour with no legal recourse for the employee. Due to this loophole the home care industry has enjoyed record profits, for example in 2009 the industry made $84.1 billion in profits, and is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors in today’s economy. Yet the industry has cried ‘foul’ and ‘poor house’ when faced with the possibility of having to pay their workers the basic rights and protections of minimum wage and overtime.
Almost all home care workers are female, and the vast majority are minorities. These women are often the sole breadwinner for their families and are struggling at poverty level wages. In order to survive, a large percentage of home care workers have to depend on social safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. With the home care workforce projected to grow by nearly 50 percent again by 2018 and be the major source of growth and jobs in the U.S. economy by adding 1.3 million jobs by 2020, something needs to be done to cover these workers under the most basic labor protections.
Yet this witness claimed that having to pay his employees minimum wage and overtime, would adversely affect the workers’ pay. If an employee is already working 50-hour-weeks with no minimum wage and overtime, how would earning an increased wage plus time and a half overtime hurt them? Even at the median wage of $9.34 an hour, with no overtime, a worker would only make $19,427 a year – far below a basic self-sufficiency income for a single adult, let alone someone supporting a family.
Ted Kennedy once said, “No one who works for a living should live in poverty.” It’s time to value the incredible work home care workers do and respect them enough to cover them under the very basic protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and give them the right to get paid the minimum wage and overtime.
This is a very big week for health care in America. The constitutionality of Affordable Care Act is being argued in the Supreme Court. This landmark legislation that provides near universal health care in America after many decades of failed attempts – and that groups like NCL have been working for throughout our history- is in hot dispute. Despite the fact that the United States remains the only Western country that doesn’t provide universal health care for its citizens, this one issue has generated more noise – on the right in particular – than practically anything else.
This highly unusual argument is going to be spread over three days. Tuesday the court will hear from proponents and opponents on the individual mandate’s constitutionality.
The law’s opponents include 26 states that are arguing that Congress has no power under the Constitution to order people to buy anything-and that if the law stands, Congress will have sweeping new authority to dictate our behavior. Also on the table is whether – if the individual mandate is struck, and I hope it isn’t because the law really doesn’t work without it – whether the rest of the law falls down.
One lower court has ruled that individual mandate is unconstitutional, but several others said it could remain. The thing is, the public wants people to be covered even if they have a pre-existing condition and parents want their kids covered til 26, especially since many young people don’t have jobs. Both are guarantees in the ACA.
The Court will also review requirements that poor people be covered by the states, and imposes new requirements on the states to ensure that this coverage is available. I agree with those who believe that this case may be the most important set of rulings since FDR’s New Deal legislation was challenged at the Supreme Court.
Florence Kelley, NCL’s first leader, was stymied in many of her initiatives – minimum wage, maximum hours and child labor laws when the Court struck such laws she worked so hard to get enacted. (though she – and Justice Brandeis won the right for women to be covered by maximum hours laws in Muller v. Oregon) But ultimately, justice won out and all are laws and protections we cherish today. I can only hope that the Affordable Healthcare Act withstands the challenges and survives intact.
But if we lose this round, and I don’t think we will, I expect that justice will ultimately win out and Americans will enjoy universal health care at long last.
Earlier this month Executive Director Sally Greenberg and I, along with representatives from several national consumer groups, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The meetings, part of the task force’s Consumer Protection Summit, were an opportunity for NCL to discuss emerging fraud trends and recommend solutions to the country’s highest law enforcement officer.
Greenberg called on Attorney General Holder and the members of the task force to do more to protect consumers from fraud on a number of fronts.
First, she urged the task force to bring Internet scammers to justice, particularly those fraudsters operating overseas. NCL’s Fraud Center staff routinely hears from fraud victims who are as frustrated by international fraudsters’ seeming immunity from justice as they are by the crime itself. Greenberg called on the task force to publicize high-profile extraditions and prosecutions of overseas scam artists to serve as a warning to those who would victimize American consumers.
Second, Greenberg called for revisiting consumer education initiatives to measure the effectiveness of different strategies for getting consumers to change their behavior. Too often, she said, there appears to be a diminishing return on the consumer education dollar and rarely do consumer protection agencies have good visibility into what works and what doesn’t. She urged the task force to consider making more government-owned complaint data available to the general public so that emerging fraud trends can be identified earlier.
Finally, she highlighted the frustration that advocates feel at the seeming ubiquity of advertisements for dubious or outright fraudulent products and services on television and radio. She called on the task force to work with broadcasters and cable channels to ensure that they are doing their due diligence when vetting potential advertisers so as to keep fraudulent ads off the airwaves.
President Obama created the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Its goal is to bring financial scammers to justice, get restitution for victims and address financial discrimination on Wall Street. More than two-dozen federal law enforcement agencies participate in the task force. The task force maintains a website at StopFraud.gov with news on recent law enforcement actions, tips on avoiding scams and information for victims of financial fraud.
A recent outbreak of foodborne illness caused by raw milk has made headlines lately, sickening at least 80, and drawing more attention to a pretty controversial issue.
Raw milk advocates claim it has increased health benefits that commercially pasteurized milk doesn’t. Here’s one raw milk enthusiast’s blog. But experts like those at the FDA say not so fast. With all the rhetoric surrounding the topic, it can be difficult for consumers to get a straight answer about raw milk. NCL has recently published a Q and A for consumers considering switching to what fans call “real milk.” Check it out.
By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft
Incredible! The old adage “one step forward, two steps back” may soon apply to the groundbreaking New York Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010 and the Miami-Dade County (Florida) Wage Theft Ordinance. These laws were designed to give workers stronger protections against employers who commit wage theft violations, usually in the form of unpaid wages.
In the New York legislature, some state Republican senators are calling the Wage Theft Prevention Act “a burdensome, costly mandate on every employer in the state” and a “misguided job-killing regulation”. Unfortunately, these same state senators have been able to pass their bill, repealing the law, in the State Senate and are working to have the State Assembly pass a similar bill. The component that state senators seem to have the biggest problem with is the requirement that employers provide employees annually with a written notice on their wages in the primary language of the employee. How is a written notice that explains a person’s wages, in their primary language, be a job killer? The National Consumers League urges the New York Assembly to recognize this thinly veiled attempt by business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Business Council to repeal a law that protects workers from an illegal action used by employers to help pad their bottom line and not support this GOP-sponsored bill.
In the Florida legislature, the Florida Retail Federation has joined forces with some state Republican House Members to pass a bill prohibiting all local governments from passing anti-wage theft ordinances. The bill is aimed at stopping counties and cities from following the lead of Miami-Dade County, which passed an ordinance in 2010 protecting workers from wage theft and set up procedures for workers to recover their unpaid wages.
Since the implementation of the anti-wage theft ordinance, the Miami-Dade County Small Business agency has recovered nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for 313 workers who unlawfully had their wages withheld from them. According to the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, the US Department of Labor recovered just under $16 million for more than 24,000 workers in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties. With all the rampant wage theft violations, especially in Florida’s key industries of tourism, retail trades, and construction, why would state legislators seek to prohibit the strengthening of protections for its workers?
In both states the business lobby seeks an end to the crack down on wage theft violations and the strengthening of worker protections. Do they care more about their bottom line than their employees? The answer seems clear.
You think your pay is low? You should check out the federal minimum wage for tipped workers – $2.13 an hour.
While nearly all of the non-agricultural jobs in the U.S. must pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, tipped workers (servers, bartenders, bussers, etc.) make the federal minimum wage of $2.13 an hour – frozen since 1991 due to the strong-arm tactics of the restaurant industry tapping down the calls for change. Employers are allowed by law to pay $2.13 an hour to tipped employees as long as tips make up the difference between $2.13 and $7.25, however surveys and interviews with workers indicate that employers frequently ignore this requirement – a clear example of wage theft.
Now you may think – ‘That’s low but okay since most tipped workers are teenagers looking for pocket-money.’ That’s not true – the restaurant industry employs 10 million workers in one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy. It offers some of the country’s lowest paying jobs, with little to no access to benefits and career advancement.
A report, Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequality in the Restaurant Industry by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), paints the disturbing picture of gender exploitation and abuses throughout an industry that is set to make record profits, even in this current economy. Women make up nearly two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations and are more than 71 percent of wait staff – the largest group of tipped workers. According to Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women Foundation, the gender wage gap is stark: women servers are paid only 68 percent of what men in the same job are paid ($17,000 vs. $25,000 annually) and African-American women are paid only 60 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. The poverty rate for women, in tipped occupations, is nearly three times the poverty rate for all workers. According to ROC United, ‘servers rely on food stamps at nearly double the rate of the general population’ – meaning, after serving customers food all day they can’t afford to eat.
Is there any light at the end of this long tunnel and what can we do about it? There maybe some light, Congresswoman Donna Edwards has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, the WAGES Act (H.S. 631), which seeks to raise the federal minimum wage for all tipped employees. Unfortunately, she only has 27 co-sponsors, to date, and with the powerful restaurant industry – mostly run by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) – it will be an uphill battle.
March 11, 2012 marks the first anniversary of the launch of the Consumer Product Safety Commission database, which can be found at http://www.SaferProducts.gov.
I recently gave the consumer perspective on the database at the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) annual meeting in Florida. The creation of the safety database has been a longstanding interest of mine and of other consumer advocates. In 2007, while working at Consumers Union, I testified before the Senate asking that consumers have access to critical information about products that have caused injury or harm.
We said then that consumers need and want safety information when making an important purchase. Whether it be buying a car, lawn mower, or items for a baby, consumers want the benefit of information about a certain product’s safety record. The database was finally authorized by Congress and I believe it is one of the most important consumer tools to emerge from Washington in several years. A lot of work goes towards ensuring the database is as accurate as possible. When consumers lodge a complaint, the CPSC gives the named manufacturer 10 days to respond before the incident is made public. Consumers also have to provide specific information about the product and the information is then screened by CPSC for accuracy.
How is the database working for consumers? Well, there have been 6,300 incidents posted in less than one year. That tells me that the database has been a great success, despite an effort by some manufacturers and their supporters in Congress to shut it down. For example, Representative Joann Emerson, a Republican of Missouri who sits on the House Appropriations committee, said about the database: “Funding should go for other priorities of the agency before being spent on a poor and inaccurate resource for consumers.”
With all due respect, I beg to differ with the Congresswoman. Let’s look at the data on inaccuracies- of the 1,600 reports now included in the database, only 194 were found to contain inaccurate information, most often because the consumer mistakenly named the wrong manufacturer or model number of the product and CPSC’s Communications Director, Scott Wolfson said that most of these mistakes are “easily corrected.” In fact, there’s been several analyses of the database. An analysis from the House Commerce Committee Democratic staff last June contained these findings:
- Only a few months after it was launched, the database had more than 1,600 incident reports from consumers, health care professionals, and public safety officials, 1/3 of those reports involved deaths or injuries.
- 11 incidents reports were of fatalities – infants dying in cribs and playpens, and teenagers and adults killed riding ATVs.
- The database contained 483 reports of incidents that resulted in injuries, including to children suffering amputations when their fingers got trapped in the hinges of strollers with the stroller make and model provided so other consumers can be aware of the problem.
- Many other reports were of product defects that could cause injury – a baby gate whose hinges broke and fell down the stairs, a hair dryer that sparked when a Mom was drying her daughter’s hair, front loading washing machine that burned the clothes, and electronics that began overheating and smoking with normal use.
Kids and Cars Analysis:
Another analysis from the nonprofit group Kids in Danger that has done so much excellent work on product safety and children also analyzed 2,433 entries on the database from April 1 to August 1, finding that:
- 20% of the reports involved injuries to children.
- 14% of the reports involved recalled products, telling us we need to do a better job of getting them out of the marketplace
- Product failures – like Pogo sticks coming apart or improperly constructed trampolines were very much in evidence.
Then the CPSC itself has its own analysis. As for the accuracy of the information in the database, the CPSC’s analysis shows that 84 percent of 6,300 reports include the model and serial numbers. Eighty-two percent of people who filed reports also allowed their contact information to be passed on to the manufacturing company, allowing the company to address their complaints.
I think these numbers demonstrate the overwhelming success of the website. Why? Because it is doing exactly what Congress intended it to do and doing so with a lot of specificity. And it is giving consumers who encounter dangerous products a place to go to help warn other consumers so they don’t get injured.
Let me add that what goes onto the website is very carefully screened by CPSC: consumers can’t just post any old piece of information. They need to provide a description of the product or substance, the name of the manufacturer, they must describe the death, injury or illness caused by the product, and they must provide a date when the incident occurred. Then upon filing, the consumer must say who they are – consumer, a health care professional etc, provide their name and address, and verify that the report is accurate.
Consumers are offering very detailed and very helpful reports of their interactions with products, information that is useful to consumers and manufacturers alike. One mother found her son’s head wedged under a baby bumper – the manufacturer of the bumper refused her a refund since she hadn’t bought it from them directly. Another found a bottom tubular rail of a crib had collapsed. The manufacturer’s website was down so she couldn’t report it to them. One grandmother bought a crib and tried to put it together but it lacked an important part. When she called the manufacturer they said they knew there was a problem and would send her the part.
And I think the staff at the CPSC have done a marvelous job in designing the website – including 10 days to respond a posting, CSPC has provided more than due process to manufacturers and retailers who wish to comment, respond or defend their product.
Once again, consumer advocates believe the database has provided an invaluable tool for consumers and to consumers’ great credit, they have more than risen to the occasion. There has long been a demand for this kind of place to share information and I’m proud of consumers for their many responses.
To the manufacturers who are seeing defunding of the database, and your supporters in Congress – we ask you to resist the urge to shoot the messenger. A far better approach would be to embrace the database, review it daily, and find out where the hazards are. A quick response and a fix of the hazard could prevent lawsuits and most importantly, you’ll be demonstrating that your first priority is to protect the health and safety of the customers that buy your products and keep you in business!
It is often said that Washington can make for strange bedfellows. A great case in point is the recent agreement between The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers to improve the treatment of the nation’s 280 million egg-laying hens by supporting H.R. 3798. The legislation would modernize the egg industry by phasing in larger, enriched colony cages that would improve hen health by allowing for natural hen behavior such as turning and nesting. What’s the consumer angle? Studies show that stressed hens have higher rates of diseases such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, illnesses that are passed through their eggs and on to consumers.
The bill also has a food labeling component that would require egg produces to include information on whether packaged eggs come from hens that were housed in battery cages, enriched cages, or cage-free. To learn more about the consumer choice and safety implications of improving hen health, read NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg’s guest blog over at the Humane Society’s Animals & Politics Blog!
Since when is it controversial to inform people of their rights and protections afforded under the law? Why is it seen as a ‘job killer,’ a ‘punishment,’ or ‘regulation run amok,’ to simply know your rights in the workplace?
Today’s workers are not taught about their rights when entering the workplace and few high schools teach students about their rights to a minimum wage and rules governing safety in the workplace, let alone their rights to collectively bargain and form a union. How are Americans expected to learn about those rights? The Department of Labor already requires the placing of posters that inform workers of their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, job safety and others – so why are business groups fighting a new poster?
Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses Small Business Legal Center, National Chamber Litigation Center, the Manhattan Institute and others have fought the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) ruling to require most private businesses to put up a poster that explains employees’ rights and protections under the National Labor Relations Act, from 1935, to collectively bargain and form a union. They have argued that the poster – which simply informs workers of their rights and protections – will damage the economy, kill jobs and destroy the employer-employee relationship.
On March 2nd, a U.S. District judge upheld the right of the NLRB to require most private businesses to put up posters informing workers they have a legal right to form a union. Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, “The notice-posting rule is a reasonable means of promoting awareness.” The US Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses and the National Association of Manufacturers challenged the NLRB’s ruling and questioned the right of the NLRB to require the posters.
The backlash is enough to make one wonder, what legitimate reasons could an honest employer have for keeping their workers in the dark about their rights at work? After all, it’s only a poster…