The Faces of LifeSmarts — Lois Johnson

Lois Johnson

Lois Johnson, the 2013 LifeSmarts Coach of the Year with LifeSmarts Program Director Lisa Hertzberg.

Lois Johnson has six kids, seven grandkids, and 100’s of LifeSmarts kids. She has been coaching for 16 years, continually expanding her LifeSmarts family. Johnson has now entered her last year coaching the program. Retirement lies ahead, but first she aims to lead Willow River High School to a seventh consecutive Minnesota state championship and a trip to Orlando for the 2014 national championship.

Throughout her years participating in LifeSmarts, Johnson has had her fair share of laughs, tears, and heart palpitations.

“I get really nervous during competitions,” says Johnson. “I just put my head down on the table; I can’t even look.”

A few years ago, Dougie, a special education student from Willow River, a K-12 school with fewer than 500 students, enrolled in Johnson’s LifeSmarts class. Initially, Johnson was skeptical that he could beat out many of his fellow students and earn a spot on the 5-person team, which was headed to the state competition, but through hard work and hours of studying, he did. During the competition, Johnson assumed her position—head down on the table, eyes closed— as she tried to suppress her nerves.

“Suddenly everyone gasped,” said Johnson. “I looked up, it was a crucial point in the match, and Dougie had just buzzed in. He got the question right and then proceeded to get two or three more questions right. It was something from a movie, he was so excited. This little special education student was so shy, and here he was answering questions, and you could see his confidence growing. The whole experience was…” after a long pause, “life changing.”

LifeSmarts is a program designed to prepare all students, not just straight-A students, for the basics skills they need to navigate life’s pitfalls and obstacles.

“The information is so practical,” Johnson explains. “You can take algebra or geometry and learn some stuff, but I tell my students I’m going to teach you things you’ll actually be using. It’s survival.”

The lessons learned through the LifeSmarts curriculum will be valuable throughout life; avoiding identity theft, learning how to deal with insurance policies, and renting your first apartment. But the relationships formed in LifeSmarts can also last a lifetime.

“I’m proud to be a part of the first-ever LifeSmarts wedding,” says Johnson. “One of my former LifeSmarts kids is marrying a boy from Alabama, someone she met at the LifeSmarts national competition. I was invited to the wedding, and they told me they were going to have LifeSmarts questions on every table.”

At this LifeSmarts event Johnson will have no need to assume her all-to-familiar competition position. Head held high, she will proudly welcome this new addition to her LifeSmarts family.

Store your medicine up and away and out of sight

nick blog


By Nikola Sirovica, Communications Intern

Nikola Sirovica is a recent graduate of McGill University with a double major in Political Science and History. He is interested in the growth of social media and how the abundance of information influences the way individuals operate in a market economy. In his spare time he enjoys playing basketball, reading up on Eastern European history, and writing.  

Medications bear a striking resemblance to candy. And while most adults can easily distinguish between an Advil and a Jelly Bean, young children probably cannot. This makes it vitally important to know exactly where you store your medication. Over 60,000 young children end up in the emergency room each year because they accidentally swallow their parent’s medicine thinking it is candy. Never tell your child that medicine is candy to get them to take it.  Improper storage of medicine can lead to fatal accidents. Don’t let this happen to your child; make sure your home and medicine cabinet are childproof and safe. Here are some guidelines on how to keep your kids safe from your meds:

  1. Keep medicine and vitamins in an area out of reach and out of sight. This can include the top shelf to a closet, a high cabinet, or above the fridge. Make sure the area is cool and dry. If you have a medicine cabinet, invest in a lock so that kids can’t open the door without a password.
  2. Keep your medicine in their original containers. Not only is there important information such as dosage instructions, expiration dates, and disposal methods, medical containers typically have child resistant casing and safety caps. Should your child accidently ingest the wrong medicine, the information on the bottle can help emergency personnel assess the risk and danger your child is in.
  3. Memorize the poison control hotline 1-800-222-1222. Keep it in your phone in your emergency contact list and don’t hesitate to contact the number if you think your child has consumed the wrong medicine.

Travelling can be an even bigger issue. When staying in a hotel keep your meds in the safe. Even when you’re visiting your relative’s house inquire about where they keep their medicine and make sure your friends keep them in a place safely tucked away from your children. Always remember that children are curious creatures, and a brightly colored pill bears a striking resemblance to brightly colored candy. Don’t let them get their hands on those meds without your supervision.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is encouraging consumers to share pictures of where they put their meds to make sure they are up and away and out of sight of children. If you think you have a good spot to keep your medicine share it online, and submit a picture of your safe medicine storage place. Safety should be everyone’s top priority, especially when it involves your children and your medication.

Meet NCL’s public policy summer interns

samSam Hamer – Yale University, ‘14

I am a senior at Yale University majoring in History. When not playing on the Yale Club Baseball team, I devote much of my time outside of the classroom to organizing a student-run clinic that prepares income tax returns for low-income individuals in New Haven. I am also a Yale Urban Fellow, part of a cohort of students interested in issues of poverty and urban development. From September – December 2012, I served as a White House Intern in the Office of Public Engagement. I’m originally from Chicago and am an avid White Sox fan.

I come to NCL this summer via a partnership with the Google Policy Fellowship, a program that matches students interested in technology policy with leading nonprofit organizations in that field. I have a passion for social justice and I’m eager to learn how NCL is leading the charge to support consumers in the realm of telecommunications and technology policy. To that end, I will be spending my time abetting NCL’s efforts to stem phone bill cramming, expand access to telecommunications services for low-income consumers, and combat ID theft and fraud. With an eye toward a career in public service, I am excited to immerse myself in an organization that champions progressive causes. In addition to getting my feet wet in consumer advocacy work, I am looking forward to taking full advantage of the summer intern Mecca that is Washington, DC.

rjRobert “RJ” Smith – Indiana University of Pennsylvania ‘14

Originally, I am from a town right outside of Philadelphia, called Pottstown. I am a senior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, or IUP for short. At IUP, I am pursuing a double major in both International Studies and History as well as a minor in Economics. Being a History major, I was immediately drawn the NCL because the historic legislation and importance the League has played since its founding in 1899. During my American History Studies I developed a fascination with the early 1900’s and the Progressive Era. The fact that I am now working with an organization that was and continues to be so influential in passing legislation that helps and protects the average American, is a dream come true.

During my internship at NCL, besides developing an understanding of the internal workings of a non-profit organization and Washington policy making, I am looking forward to representing and protecting consumers. There are many public policy issues that I feel strongly about and would love to work on, but if I had to pick one, it would be workers’ rights, not only in the United States, but also in the factories used by American-run companies around the globe. I am passionate about this topic because I am a firm believer that the relationship between a company and its employees should be mutually beneficial.

heatherHeather Yoon – Brandeis ‘15

I am a rising junior at Brandeis University majoring in International & Global Studies and Politics with minors in Legal Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and East Asian Studies. I love to travel and dream of visiting Africa, Dubai, and Egypt in the near future. Service has been at the heart of many of my previous travels abroad. After the devastating earthquake broke out in Haiti, I spent two summers there and in the Dominican Republic implementing the “Relief for Haiti Project.” Through this effort, my team members and I provided victims with medical aid, emotional support, and basic necessities. My growing concern for poverty, human rights, and gendered violence inspired me to join the National Consumers League this summer as a public policy intern to address international consumer and worker issues to a wider audience.

During the past three years, I had the honor of interning for Mayor Steven Choi in Irvine, California. Shadowing Mayor Choi’s position helped me to adopt a very important philosophy for serving the community – “Listen, Learn, Respond.” With this philosophy, I will effectively help represent and respond to public interests and concerns of constituents on a daily basis at the League.

I admire the League’s commitment to assisting consumers and workers on issues of fair labor standards. I am excited to be part of the team that continues to engage with a wide community of leaders and influencers. My goal is to use my international experiences and leadership skills to learn how to accentuate the rights of consumers and workers using public policies relating to consumer fraud.

FTC announces winners for Robocall Challenge

Sandra Latouff

By Sandra Latouff, NCL Fraud and Policy Intern

Last week, the FTC announced the winners of the Robocall Challenge. The winners, Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss will each be receiving $25,000 and a trip to Washington, DC for an opportunity to present their innovations. The Challenge asked innovators to create solutions that will block illegal robocalls for both landlines and mobile phones. A robocall is a term for a phone call that uses a computerized auto dialer to deliver a pre-recorded message.

In 2012, the FTC received about 200,000 complaints per month from consumers about robocalls! In an effort to fend off robocalls, some consumers have turned to the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry. Currently, 220 million consumers have registered their numbers on the Registry, but even with the Registry consumers nationwide are still being pestered by robocalls. In an effort to help the public fight against the creative methods robocalls are reaching consumers, the FTC created the Robocall Challenge to gather creative and efficient ideas from participants that could be successful. The hope of the FTC is that by hosting the Robocall Challenge a winning idea will catch the attention of private companies and eventually find its way to the marketplace for consumer protection.

Danis’s proposal, titled “Robocall Filtering System and Device with Autonomous Blacklisting, Whitelisting, GrayListing and Caller ID Spoof Detection”, would analyze and block robocalls using software that could be implemented as a mobile app, an electronic device in a user’s home, or a feature of a provider’s telephone service. Foss’s proposal, called Nomorobo, is a cloud-based solution that would use “simultaneous ringing,” which allows incoming calls to be routed to a second telephone line. In the Nomorobo solution, this second line would identify and hang up on illegal robocalls before they could ring through to the user. A third proposal from Google engineers Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson won the Technology Achievement Award. Klen and Jackson’s solution would involve using automated algorithms that identify “spam” callers.

As a result of the Robocall Challenge, the FTC created a video compiling submissions that focused on what consumers are doing right now to reduce illegal robocalls. Here are some of the tips:

  1. Ask you carrier what services they provide. Some service providers allow their customers to block off certain phone numbers. There may or may not be a charge for this service. Consumers may also be able to use VoIP hardware that allows them to tag any incoming number as unwanted which then plays a disconnected tone to the caller. After this, there is usually no second call.
  2. Check out devices for your landline. Search Internet shopping sites for “call blocker.” One consumer said that she uses a special phone that causes robocaller software to drop her number from their call list, which reduced and eventually stopped the number of calls she received.
  3. Experiment with “special information tones.” Some consumers placed the three note “non-working number” ringtone at the beginning of their voicemail or answering machine message which resulted in fewer robocalls.
  4. Investigate apps for your smart phone. Consumers are paying for apps that block robocalls. There are some free apps that, based on reviews, perform decently as well.
  5. Use a “virtual phone line” with call screening options. One consumer obtained a virtual phone line that forwarded the calls from that line to his actual phone. He gives his virtual number to everyone and keeps his other phone number to himself.

Consumers should also be sure to check the Terms of Service for any new program or offer when applying. An agreement to receive phone calls (i.e. robocalls) may be buried deep within the fine print.

If you have any tips or suggestions on how you prevent or stop robocalls, the FTC invites consumers to share their knowledge on their Facebook page. Click here for more information about the Robocall Challenge and its winners.

Help protect American workers from on-the-job silica exposure

schneiderGuest post by Scott Schneider, MS, CIH, Director of Occupational Safety and Health, Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America

Silica is not a new problem in the workplace. More than 80 years ago hundreds of workers died from acute silicosis digging the Gauley Bridge tunnel in West Virginia. Congressional hearings were held and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins held an investigation and declared that it was our duty to eliminate silicosis from the workplace. In the 1970’s the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed recommendations to reduce exposures to silica in the workplace yet it wasn’t until the 1990s when OSHA began to take action. The initiated a rule to reduce silica exposures and kicked off a campaign (”It’s Not Just Dust”) to increase awareness of the problem.

Over the years we have learned even more about the dangers of silica. Overexposure to silica not only causes silicosis, an irreversible, progressive lung disease, it is also associated with lung cancer, chronic renal disease and autoimmune disorders. An estimated 1.7 million U.S. workers are still exposed to this serious hazard. Public health experts estimate that 280 workers die each year from silicosis and thousands more develop silicosis as a result of workplace exposures

After many years work and delays OSHA finally sent a draft silica standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February 2011. OMB normally has 90 days to review a proposed regulation. As of next month, it will have held onto this proposal for two years. Each year of delay means additional thousands of workers will be exposed and at risk of illness or death.

Releasing the proposal and publishing it in the Federal Register is just the start of a very public process which includes OSHA public hearings and comment periods. The White House needs to release this standard for publication so OSHA can proceed with a rulemaking. Lives are at stake.

You can help by signing a petition on the White House Web site. The petition requires 25,000 signatures by February 11 to elicit a formal response from the White House. Please add your signature today to help us take this next step towards protecting workers from this serious hazard.

The real cost of cheap goods: The scary truth behind some Christmas ornaments

makiBy Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

With the holidays upon us, many American look forward to trimming their Christmas tree and spending time with their loved ones, especially their children. For many kids, Christmas invokes the happiest of memories, but not all kids are so lucky.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, noted earlier this month that many children in India are virtually enslaved in sweatshops that manufacture Christmas ornaments. Check out what Brown had to say in this video and learn about the “nightmare” suffered by Indian children who make ornaments for consumers in the U.S. and other countries in the Western hemisphere.

In the video, Brown talks about a rescue raid by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) which freed 14 of the child laborers—some as young as eight—from a sweatshop in Delhi. BBA, like the Child Labor Coalition is a member of the Global March Against Child Labor, an international umbrella group that works to reduce the worst forms of child labor.

“Children are being asked to work 17, 18, 19 hours a day,” said Brown. “They are being asked to work in unsanitary conditions. They are being asked to work without sunlight. Some of them are lacerated because they are working with glass. We found these children in this basement, they were not being paid, they had been trafficked…” Several children had been beaten by their crew leaders. The rescuers actually found 12 of the children imprisoned in a locked 6-foot by 6-foot cell.

The children are now free, but many children around the world are not so fortunate. Brown notes that there are tens of thousands of sweatshops around the world, where grossly underpaid workers, including many children, produce goods for us.

“The people I know in America who do not want to celebrate Christmas on the backs of the exploitation of these young children would be appalled if they knew that these decorations and trinkets and gifts and presents were coming because children had been violently kept prisoner to make these goods.” The UNESCO Institute for Statistics notes that 61 million children around the world of primary age do not attend school—often because they work instead. “That’s an unacceptable thing for 2012,” said Brown.

India is currently considering a ban on all child labor for workers under 18. However, even if the ban passes, enforcement of the law would provide enormous challenges.

In its annual report this year, the U.S. Department of Labor found that 134 goods are still produced by forced labor and child labor in 74 countries. In India, children help produce more than 20 different goods ranging from bricks to carpets to leather goods and often do so under the harshest conditions.

As you put up and take down your Christmas tree and put the bulbs away, think for a moment about the small child who might have made those decorations, who might have been beaten because he or she did not work hard enough; who may have cut his or her hand on the glass of broken bulbs; or who dreams of the school that he or she is not allowed to attend.

When we buy products at ridiculously low prices, there is often a reason for those low prices. The real cost—as Gordon Brown notes—may be the freedom and the safety of children.

Read Brown’s excellent Huffington Post column about the raid here and check out what other products we use that may be manufactured by child labor and forced labor.

Consumers who wish to support the Child Labor Coalition’s and the National Consumers League’s efforts to educate the public about child labor issues may make a donation here.

Shedding tears for workers — not Twinkies

We are saddened by the closing of Hostess Brand plants in cities throughout the country and have issued several statements to the press in support of the Bakery workers. The Bakery workers had gone on strike because they, in the past, had provided many wage and benefit concessions, which the company promised to use toward rebuilding the brand and improving the capital structure. Hostess did none of this, according to a report by a nonpartisan bankruptcy analyst and was terribly managed. Now the company is blaming the striking workers instead of taking responsibility for abysmal management and giveaways to six CEOs in 10 years who have failed to turn the company around and squandered the savings provided to the company by the workers. Now, 18,000 workers will lose their jobs. It’s shameful.

NCL PRESS RELEASE: Withdrawal of Proposed Occupational Child Safety Rules for Agriculture Will Endanger Children Working on Farms

For immediate release: April 27, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820,

Those of us concerned with the safety and welfare of children and teens working in agriculture are deeply disappointed by the Department of Labor’s decision to pull back on its effort to protect kids on farms.  “The all-out campaign of misinformation and distortion about the Department of Labor’s long overdue and important proposal to protect children working on farms will have an impact for years to come,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director and a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations committed to protecting children from exploitative or dangerous work. 

“Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Greenberg. “Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year. Many of those kids work for wages. The Department of Labor’s sensible recommendations–based on years of research indicating the jobs in which teen injuries and deaths occur–sought to protect them. Unfortunately, the proposed rules fell victim to misinformation and exaggeration from groups like the National Farm Bureau and others that should know better.”

The reality is that agricultural work for teens is extremely dangerous: 

  • Between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youths died on American farms, well over 100 per year. (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)  
  • Last year, 12 of the 16 children under age 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Between 1992 and 2000, more than four in 10 work-related fatalities of young workers occurred on farms. 
  • Half of the fatalities in agriculture involved youth under age 15.
  • Just this past August, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. This accident would have been prevented by the proposed rules.
  • For agricultural workers 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces, according to DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the U.S., children who work on their parent’s farms are exempt from child labor laws. They can perform any task at any age. Other exemptions allow children to work for wages on other farms at the age of 12—and sometimes even younger. DOL’s proposed rules would have restricted youth from working in only the most dangerous tasks, allowing them to perform a wide array of farm jobs. Teens working in 4H or other educational and training programs were exempted under the regulations as well.

“The Department of Labor made every effort to be reasonable and flexible in proposing these safety regulations,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards and the coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. “The rules continued to exempt kids working on their family farms and DOL indicated that the final rules would be expanded to exempt kids working the farms of relatives.”

More than 150 groups supported the proposed child safety rules. A list of those organizations can be found at

“We waited four decades for these badly needed safety updates and now they have been blocked by an overheated and exaggerated campaign of misinformation that trivialized critically-needed safety protections,” added Maki. “We estimate that 50-100 children could lose their lives without the added protections these rules provided.”


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

CPSC database turns one

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director 

March 11, 2012 marks the first anniversary of the launch of the Consumer Product Safety Commission database, which can be found at

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!