It’s hard to believe I’m already more than halfway done with my time as a public policy intern at the National Consumers League. Through my work at NCL, I am learning a lot about the process to change regulations on the federal level. One way I experience this is through events I have the opportunity to attend. For example, I watched the executive director of NCL testify at the Consumer Product Safety Commission on issues such as the safety of table saws, an issue for which she has been a leading advocate.
I also attended a hearing where the NCL Executive Director testified before the Aviation Consumer Protection Committee at the Department of Transportation. She argued that airlines violate privacy by collecting personal information on passengers, and consumers consistently suffer due to increasing fees when they have to change the time of their flights or for seat assignments. After my supervisor testified, we had the opportunity to meet committee member Lisa Madigan, who is my Attorney General from Illinois. Watching experts testify before commissions such as these allowed me to learn about the process through which new regulations are passed, and the power of advocacy groups.
One of the things I am most proud of is blogs I have written for the National Consumers League’s blog. So far I have written three: one on gender equity bargaining and legislation that limits equality in the labor force; one on student loan relief for college students; and one about the marketing of food to children and its health impacts. The blogs can be read online here. Through my work on these blogs, I had an opportunity to work both on research skills, as well as writing skills. I was able to connect a lot of dots based on articles from news sources, legislation, presentations from many of the events and hearings I attended, and work that organizations like NCL and partner groups do. In the future, I will be able to use these blog postings to show one of the ways in which I contributed to NCL this summer, and as writing samples for futures job opportunities.
One of my goals was to learn more about issues I am passionate about, including labor and food policy. I have had several opportunities to do so through events, hearings, and research. I attended the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, where leaders in food safety and policy from both the United States and Europe met to discuss and compare current policies for addressing food safety. It became clear that despite the recent Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifts an focus from responding to contamination to preventing it, the U.S. is still significantly behind Europe in terms of inspection, safety procedures, and clear labeling standards.
An issue that relates to both food and labor safety that I have had the opportunity to work on is the USDA’s proposed change in poultry inspection, which would privatize inspection—so that instead of government inspectors, companies can hire their own inspectors. Studies have shown that defects are more likely missed when inspectors are company employees, most likely because the company wants to produce more, whether or not the product is safe. In addition, the proposal increases line speed to 175 birds per minute, which breaks down to 3 birds per second. It is nearly impossible to safely inspect at this line speed. Poultry workers have little control because they are only 30% union organized, which means weak contracts and poor security—especially considering many workers may be recent, or undocumented immigrants. This new policy will also not require inspectors to be trained. I learned a lot about this issue through meetings with leaders in labor and food policy, and had the opportunity to take action by handing out fliers at the Folk Festival on the National Mall. I talked to many people about the issue, and encouraged them to make calls to their Senators or Representative in Congress. I think this issue connects with almost everyone because it impacts the safety of our food.
– Lili Gecker ’13