Carrol Daily Times Herald from Carroll, Iowa on April 26, 1976 · Page 14
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Carrol Daily Times Herald from Carroll, Iowa · Page 14

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Carroll, Iowa
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Monday, April 26, 1976
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Page 14
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Got a Gripe? Someone Out There Willing to Listen to a Consumer By Louise Cook (Associated Press Writer) Fed up with products that don't produce and services that don't serve. Americans have learned that it pays to complain. No one keeps statistics on the number of complaints received by private industry and government agencies. It would be impossible because there are so many overlapping departments, bureaus and offices and the number is growing steadily. Five years 1 ago, for example, there were nine consumer agencies at the state level, according to the Office of Consumer Affairs of the U.S. Department of Health. Education and Welfare. Today there are 135. Dorothy Burkhardt who heads the complaint division of the federal consumer affairs unit said her office alone received almost 27,000 complaints in the first 11 months of 1975. compared to 24,000 complaints in all of 1974. A 1975 study by the Office of Consumer Affairs showed that 15 federal agencies — a relatively small section of Washington's bureaucracy — spent $6.4 million annually answering complaints. There are signs on all sides that consumers are more aware of their rights and less hesitant about demanding them. The same person who would have shrugged and said "chalk it up to experience." when confronted with a faulty product five years ago, is writing to the company president today. "People are more ready to complain to all institutions," said E. Patrick McGuire, senior research analyst at the Conference Boa.rd, a New York-based nonprofit business group. "They expect more of products and services ... They are more cynical of companies' attempts to redress their grievances." Robert Sable, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, said: "There is substantially more consumer litigation," partly because consumers have more legal rights than they used to. "There is a whole host of new consumer laws," he said, citing legislation involving interest rates, warranties and credit. "Ten years ago, there wasn't a whole lot an aggrieved consumer could do except make a stink." No one knows just when Americans started thinking of themselves as "consumers." The late President John F. Kennedy set up a Consumer Advisory Council in 1963 and listed four basic consumer rights: the right to be heard, the right to a choice, the right to be protected against unsafe products and the right to a response to a legitimate complaint. Many people believe the real consumer drive started in 1966 with Ralph Nader and his book, "Unsafe at Any Speed." Nader's disclosure, at a Senate hearing, that General Motors Corp. had private detectives investigate him because of his crusade against the safety record of the Corvair, drew wide publicity and called attention to consumerism as a cause. By 1971. "Nader's Raider^, as his followers were dubbed, had formed groups to study — and change — laws and regulations on everything from food additives to pollution controls. Today, Nader's organizations in Washington and Nader-spawned public interest research groups — PIRGS — across the country are involved in just about every facet of American life. The individual citizen who wants to complain has more outlets for his anger. There are almost 50 complaint agencies for federal departments and more than 225 county and city consumer offices. The government publishes a 39-page "Guide to Federal Consumer Services," with information on where to go with questions and complaints about everything from advertising to work regulations. The booklet is available free of charge from Consumer Information Center, Dept. 6, Pueblo, Colo., 81009. On the business front, some 500 companies have consumer affairs units. The Better Business Bureau as expanded its complaint-handling mechanism, introducing an arbitration program that has grown from three cities in 1971 to about 100 today. And volunteer groups and news media "action line" programs are ready to tackle local problems. McGuire said the surge in complaints "began long before the recession" that prompted concern over money. "It began when people learned there's a response." Previously, he said, the East and West coasts were "the most fertile field for complaints." In between was "a desert — or an oasis," depending on your viewpoint. McGuire said that Middle America has joined the complaint parade. "It is no longer considered ill-mannered or unpleasant." People boast of their victories at cocktail parties. Complaints still are most prevalent among the middle- a n d upper-middle income groups, McGuire said. These are the people who have the knowledge, the time and the determination to complain. "It hasn't trickled down to the ghetto yet," he said. "When it does, you'll have an avalanche of complaints" because there are so many people involved. The typical complainant on a nationwide basis. McGuire said, has two or more years of college, is over 30, "is more likely to be WASP than ethnic" and is in a managerial or semiprofessional job. If the item involved cost less than $100 — food, clothing or small appliances — the complainant is likely to be a woman, McGuire said. If it cost more than $100. the complainant is probably a man. Consumer agencies say they are solving more problems than ever before. The Office of Consumer Protection of the Wisconsin Department of Justice received 5,780 complaints in 1971 and recovered about $214.000 for consumers in court judgments and informal settlements. Last year, the office received 14.678 complaints and recovered almost $675,000. an increase of about 154 per cent in the number of complaints and 215 per cent in the amount of money recovered. Bob Tuttle, statistician for the National Council of Better* Business Bureaus, said local groups received over 6Va million calls of all types last year. Thirteen per cent were complaints. The rest of the callers wanted information only. The bureaus get two kinds of complaints: formal protests that are followed up and informal gripes on which no action is taken. The number of overall complaints increased steadily in the late 1960s and early 1970s, from 324.000 in 1966 to almost 1.5 million in 1973. The trend was reversed in 1974 and by 1975 the number of complaints — formal and informal — was down to 846,000. The decline does not neces- NOW! 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WHOLE HOUSE AIR CONDITIONING AS LOW AS $ 14.00 Per Month TRADE IN YOUR USED ONE Is your present air conditioner really adequate? Trade it in now on a new Gib*son that will cool your whole house! COAST to COAST STORE Times Herald, Carroll, la. Monday, April 26, 1976 sarily mean that people are complaining less, although Tuttle said he hoped it indicated greater customer satisfaction. Other factors causing the decrease include the sales slump of 1975, Tuttle said. People bought less and therefore had fewer new products to complain about. The increased availability of complaint outlets also contributes to a drop in the number of complaints received by any one agency. What are people complaining about? The Office of Consumer Affairs, in a report on complaints to_ state and local agencies, said automobiles are the most common focus of dissatisfaction. Automobile gripes accounted for 18 per cent of all complaints in 1974. Home repairs were the second most common area of dissatisfaction, representing 11 per cent of all complaints in 1974. The Better Business Bureaus statistics showed mail order businesses ARE THEY THINNER? SEATTLE (AP) - Pacific Northwest families spend less each week for food than their Eastern counterparts. They also spend less in restaurants and show a growing preference for seafood restaurants when they decide to dine out. And Northwest accounted for 15.3 per cent of all complaints in 1975. Automobiles were second with 5.9 per cent of all complaints. Next: New Laws to Protect You families hold more outdoor barbecues, three a week, than households anywhere else in the country including California. These figures and other food facts resulted from a recent study by Esmark, Inc., a Chicago-based company. 3 DAYS ONLY MON., TUES., WED. APRIL 26, 27, 28 Right Reserved To Limit Quantities 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. Thru Sat. 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday SWIFT'S PREMIUM FRANKS JERGEN'S LOTION 15-Oz. 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