Michael Bolton: IRS = Anus of Our Country; NY AG Schneiderman Takes Issues With Shifty Shift Practices; Rank and File: Airlines Get Graded

How am I supposed to live without you?

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With tax day on Wednesday, John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight thoughtfully explained our national aversion to taxes and the IRS: namely, they involve “someone taking our money and math.” To further complicate things and strengthen our aversion, Congress has drastically cut funding to the IRS, causing activity at the agency to come to an almost virtual standstill. Mr. Oliver urged us to redirect our anger, rage and frustration at Congress and not the folks at the IRS who perform “a dangerously boring job.” So what better way to pay tribute to the IRS than to call it the “anus of our country” which is precisely what, crooner Michael Bolton did, on John Oliver’s show, when he sang a not-so-moving ballad that was sort of meant to be a show  “… of reluctant support for their appropriate funding.”  To help taxpayers truly grasp the anus/IRS comparison, Mr. Oliver articulately explained that we should, “Think of our government as a body. The IRS is the anus: It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to s–t real quick.” Pure poetry.

Oh shift!

Image courtesy of  iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More than a dozen retailers are getting probed for some shifty shift scheduling practices that are not only downright rude, but according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, might just be illegal, as well. The practice in question, dubbed”on-call shifts” basically lets hourly wage employees know if they will be working only hours before they need to show up for work. The practice is not cool for so many reasons. First, for many employees, the practice does not give them ample time to make care-giving arrangements for children and and elders in their care. “On-call shifts” also don’t allow for employees to make other arrangements for alternative sources of income.  If an employee reports for work for which they had been scheduled, then according to New York State law, that employee is entitled to be paid for four hours of work at basic minimum wage. Some of the big retailers who were sent letters about their shift scheduling practices include Target, The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and J. Crew.

Would you like some pretzels with that?

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 25th annual Airline Quality Report is out and the least shocking observation on it is Virgin America taking the top spot for the third year in a row. If you’ve ever flown Virgin America, and also American Airlines, then you’ll clearly see why Virgin America gets the top spot while American – which merged with US Airways – doesn’t. However, American still managed to snag the number seven spot. A bit high, if you ask me. In fact, I am shocked that American isn’t in last place. Its regionally operated Envoy/American Eagle airline does place last, though. Yikes. The report, which measures airline performance quality, takes into account four major aspects – or as the pros say “core elements”: on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints. No doubt, if the AQR measured how travelers were treated, I am certain American/US Airways would have claimed the last spot. In any case, Hawaiian Airlines came in at number. Too bad it doesnt fly anywhere I need to go. Delta took the number three spot, the only large carrier to break into the top four, while some were left scratching their heads over JetBlue’s fourth place ranking, since the airline came in second last year.

 

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Home Sweet Amazon-Serviced Home; Ben Bernanke Joins the Blogosphere; AG Settles Score With GNC

Is there anything it won’t sell?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come out with yet another way to take your money. This time it’s through its new Amazon Home Services with over 700 home improvement service providers services at your fingertip, with verified reviews for added peace of mind. Plumbing problems? Too tired to assemble that new gym equipment? Don’t feel like vacuuming? No problem. Just log on and Amazon will make sure it all gets taken care of. Services are paid for via your Amazon account only after the project is completed. So why is Amazon’s home service offerings different from all others, like Angie’s List, Yelp etc.?  Perhaps it the comprehensive vetting process it conducts, including making sure service professionals are licensed, insured and have had their backgrounds thoroughly checked. But Amazon also offers a money-back guarantee charmingly called a “happiness guarantee.” Apparently, consumers also trust Amazon, giving an added incentive to use the ever-powerful e-commerce giant. To be fair, however, I too, once trusted Amazon. But then last month one of its vendors sent me a completely different set of fairy wings than the ones I ordered. Just sayin’.

Payback…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The blogosphere just got a bit more crowded now that Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke joined the mix with his own blog for the Brookings Institute. He is, after all, its latest Distinguished Fellow in Residence of the Economic Studies Program. It’s very pish posh, indeed. The position, I mean. Not the blog. “Now that I’m a civilian again, I can once more comment on economic and financial issues without my words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.” Which means he doesn’t have to be polite anymore and gets to say whatever he wants. For instance, Mr. Bernanke can use his blog for, among other purposes, striking back at the many critics he’s had over the years who took issue with his policies. Janet Yellen, who took over for him last year, does not get to have that kind of fun. At least for now. In today’s post, Mr. Bernanke graciously explains the reasons behind the low interest rates. By the way, he’d like you to know that it’s not necessarily because the Fed is keeping it that way – though there is some truth to that.

Whaddya mean there’s no ginseng in there? 

Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This time it is not a bank that has reached a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. GNC Holdings Inc. begrudgingly settled a lawsuit over its Herbal Plus products found at GNC, of course, but also at Target, Walmart and Walgreens. Apparently, it wasn’t at all clear that the ingredients listed on the outside of the bottles of the dietary supplements were actually present on the inside. Who would have thunk it? The presence of things like echinacea, ginkgo biloba, ginseng and St. John’s wort couldn’t be verified when the AG used DNA barcoding methods to test for them. That’s kind of a huge embarrassing problem in the $33 billion a year dietary supplement industry. Of course, GNC disagrees vehemently with the AG’s testing methods saying the “lawsuits are without merit.”  GNC, however, used its own internal test methods, in addition to third party independent test methods which, naturally yielded different results. Despite all that, the supplement company will now be using bar-coding methods –  just like the AG’s office –  beginning in the next 18 months, so that consumers will know for sure if there really is echinacea in that bottle they’re holding, conveniently labeled “echinacea.”

 

 

Not-So-Happy Meals; To Your Credit: Reporting Agencies (Finally) Agree to Play Nice; Ethical Corn Flakes

Just not that into you…

Image courtesy of joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like things keep going south for the Golden Arches. McDonald’s, the world’s largest food chain and private employer, took a major hit with global sales tanking 1.7%.  Since it’s only CEO’s Steve Easterbrook’s second week on the job, no one is blaming him…yet.  While the chain’s 36,000 restaurants took a hit as whole, in Europe, sales actually went up 0.7%….for the month. Too bad things in Japan things were precipitously worse, as McDonald’s took a $186 million loss for 2014. Apparently diners there didn’t appreciate finding things in their food that weren’t supposed to be in food. China and other parts of Asia also dealt with problems, including shifty meat suppliers. McDonald’s mentioned that “consumer needs and preferences have changed” and then there’s that issue of “ongoing aggressive competitive activity.” Which is basically saying that people would rather eat someplace else, like at Panera and Chipotle, which have certainly taken big bites from McDonald’s sales. But in an effort to pump some fiscal juice back into its portfolio, customers at some 2,000 locations will get to customize their own burgers with its “Create Your Taste” program. Now if only there was a “Create Better Sales” program…

A debt of gratitude…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It all started with an investigation back in 2012 by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Actually it all started way before that when credit reporting agencies decided to make life difficult on consumers by making them jump through hoops if – heaven forbid – they had the audacity to dispute their credit reports. Following many many many complaints to the AG’s office, Schneiderman began his investigation followed by a lawsuit that led to an agreement which consumers are sure to appreciate (probably more so than the credit reporting agencies). The three biggest credit reporting agencies, also known as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, who happen to report credit scores for a whopping 200 million Americans, have graciously agreed to behave a lot nicer and make things easier and quicker for consumers to dispute their reports. Since half of all debt reported comes from medical bills as a result of late insurance payments, the agencies will now give consumers 180 days to pay those bills. If you have other disputes, rest assured the process is about to get considerably easier. Under the new agreement, victims of fraud and identity theft should also have an easier time clearing things up. The agencies, however, were given three years to implement these new practices, so you might not want to hold your breath.

Not exactly the Oscars?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may have never heard of Wipro but if you’re in the market for a global information and technology consulting company, you might want to remember that name, as Wipro was just named 2015’s World’s Most Ethical Company. Every year Ethisphere Institute, a business consulting firm that focuses on best business practices, puts out its own list of “most ethical companies” with Wipro claiming the top title this year. So who else made the list? Gap Inc., H&M and Levi Strauss took home the top Ethical Prizes for “Apparel.” Hasbro and Mattel made the list for the “Toys and Games” category while Google took home the top spot for “Computer Services.”  Kellogg Co. made it onto the top five most Ethical “Food and Beverage companies for the seventh time, mind you, with The Hershey Company a few spots behind it. Petco took the number two spot for “Retail” while Starbucks Coffee Company took the top spot in the “Specialty Eateries” category. For the complete list of this year’s winners click on the link http://ethisphere.com/worlds-most-ethical/wme-honorees/