Short History of the Consumers League of New Jersey

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 The Consumers League of New Jersey was founded in 1900. In that era, children worked in factories, and many of the protections of modern life which we take for granted were nonexistent. Consumers League struggled for 35 years before its original agenda: safe food, safe working conditions, prohibitions on child labor, promotion of minimum wages laws, and union protections, was enacted into law as the New Deal.

The year 2000 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Consumers League of New Jersey.

Child Labor

In 1900, conditions for workers in this country were grim. High school education was only for rich children. Poor children worked in factories. All factory workers labored long hours in dangerous conditions. Seven-day work weeks were the norm in some industries: "if you don't come in Sunday, don't come in Monday."

How are we doing now? Much better here in the USA, thanks to the union movement, and the New Deal labor laws, prohibiting child labor, and mandating minimum wages, and overtime pay. Most Americans take benefits like Social Security and health insurance plans for granted.

But some sweatshops still exist in this country, particularly in the garment industry. Outside of the US, conditions are still as bad as 1900 in many of the factories which make our clothes. A recent class action suit accuses major manufacturers and stores of turning a blind eye on exploitation.

Consumers League of New Jersey still stands with its founders: even if laws of foreign countries allow it, child labor is still unacceptable, starvation wages are still unacceptable, excessive hours and 12 hour days are unacceptable. CLNJ cannot put its stamp of approval on practices which would make our founders turn in their graves.

CLNJ Accomplishments: Early Years

Quite a bit has been written about the history of the Consumers League of New Jersey. Starting in 1900, when child labor was common, when consumers and workers had few rights, CLNJ was way ahead of the country in its vision of justice. It was not until the New Deal that many of the reforms championed by CLNJ became law. CLNJ was a founding member of the National Consumers League, and worked with NCL and unions to bring about change.

CLNJ also took up the cause of the "watch-dial" radium poisoning of female workers right here in Essex County.

In the 1960 and 1970s, CLNJ leaders spoke out for consumer protection laws, credit laws, usury limits, and enforcement of minimum wage and child labor laws. CLNJ looked into supermarket prices. CLNJ went to the fields to support migrant farmworkers. Rutgers University has considerable archives about the early and middle years of CLNJ history.

Consumers League Accomplishments, 1985 to 2000

From 1985 onward CLNJ continued to fight for consumer rights and basic justice.

Interest Rate Fairness:
For fifteen years CLNJ promoted lower interest rates by publicizing lower interest credit cards. CLNJ gave away tens of thousands of credit card pamphlets. CLNJ lamented bank mergers which resulted in fewer choices, higher prices for consumers, and interest rates which never went down. CLNJ supported the Fair Lending Coalition. CLNJ helped NJPIRG get N.J.'s Basic Banking law enacted.

Federal Reserve Board:
From 1986-89, CLNJ's President was a member of the Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council. We opposed checkhold delays. When the FRB did not appreciate our advice, the common ground discovered between CL and bankers proved to be the formula which Congress enacted into law: the Federal Reserve must process checks quicker, and banks must end the long holds. We supported Truth in Savings, also enacted. Paul Volker listened to our talk on the increasing consumer debt load.

Mortgages & Predatory Lending:
With John Thurber of the Public Advocate, and Rob Stuart of NJPIRG, CLNJ fought against weakening N.J.'s Secondary Mortgage Loan Act. When the Legislature legalized abuses, less than one year later, CLNJ testified before the U.S. Senate in 1987 about home equity loans, or as CLNJ put it "charge a blouse, put a lien on your house." Congress banned what N.J. had approved: the "rate rise surprise" (the power to change a home equity contract after you borrowed significant funds).

Bankruptcy and Foreclosure:
CLNJ stood up for the poor and those with no lobby, such as bankrupts and homeowners facing foreclosure. When aCourt refused to let a homeowner pay his mortgage arrears through a bankruptcy payment plan, CLNJ and allies such as Henry Sommer, Gary Klein at the National Consumer Law Center, and our Lou Novellino fought for seven years until Congress finally reversed the awful Roach case, giving desperate homeowners a second chance to save their homes. We oppose the current bankruptcy "reform" bills.

Rent to Own:
CLNJ got a grant in 1991 from NCCE/AT&T for a rent to own educational campaign. We produced the RENT TO OWN RAP, a public service announcement in rap, which has been on countless television and radio programs since then. CLNJ also made a poster and pamphlet on rent to own. Click here for the rent to own educational campaign.

CLNJ, represented by Larry Lustberg, Esq. was amicus in Madeline Houston's suit, Green v. Continental Rentals, which declared RTO illegal, usurious, and a consumer fraud. CLNJ lobbied for 11 years against rent to own efforts to legalize their 100% interest. Thanks to Jerry Flanagan, Benita Jain, Curtis Fisher of NJPIRG for stopping rent to own in the Legislature.

CLNJ, with Dave Sciarra, wrote the good half of the N.J. Fair Foreclosure Act, giving the homeowner the right to catch up mortgage payments, instead of having to pay 100% in a lump sum or lose the house. Michaelene Loughlin wrote amicus briefs in home repair fraud cases in the N.J. Supreme Court. We worked with the Consumer Federation of America, NCL, NJPIRG, US PIRG and many others.

We set up our website: www.consumersleague.org where our future will be written.

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