Justin Miller

Justin Miller is a former Prospect writing fellow and is currently covering politics for the Texas Observer

Recent Articles

Federal Contract Workers Are Demanding a Big Raise. But Will They Get It?

The Fight for $15 comes to Washington. 

Good Jobs Now
Good Jobs Nation J ust outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, hundreds of workers wearing blue shirts that said "Strike!" rallied for more pay. Leaders led chants in English and Spanish, from "Hey, hey, ho, ho, $10.10 is way too low," to " ¿ Que queremos? Quince y un uni ó n ." These workers were striking for a day against companies contracted by the federal government to ring up powerful politicians’ lunch orders in the Senate, clean offices in the Pentagon, and cook food at the Smithsonian museums. As the Fight for $15 has gained traction across the United States, workers—supported by a coalition of unions, labor advocates, and politicians—are saying that it’s time for the federal government to become a model employer. A cadre of progressive politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders, also used the event to introduce legislation that calls for a national $15 minimum wage. But with legislative success along those lines unlikely, advocates are calling on President Obama to take...

From L.A. to New York (and in Between), $15 Moves Forward

From the West Coast to the East Coast, this has been a good week for the burgeoning Fight for $15 campaign.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020 for those who work in the unincorporated areas of the county. This comes on the heels of the same wage hike for workers in the City of Los Angeles passed by the city council back in May.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the move will likely spur a few of the 86 smaller cities in the county to pass their own minimum wage hikes as well as increase pressure to put municipal wage initiatives onto the 2016 ballot.

Also in California, the University of California system (headed by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano) announced that it will increase the minimum wage to $15 over the next three years. The move will give a raise to 3,200 direct UC employees in addition to several thousand contracted workers.

On the opposite side of the country, a much-anticipated announcement came down on Wednesday in New York state. The wage board charged with recommending a wage policy for the state’s fast food workers sent their decision to Governor Andrew Cuomo: raise their wages to $15

"Today, hundreds of thousands of working men and women across New York State will celebrate as their call for 15 and a union has been heard," said SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa.

There was another wage victory last week in Kansas City, which is considered a case study in whether or not such a substantial minimum wage increase is feasible in a smaller city. While not quite $15, the city council overwhelmingly voted to raise its minimum wage to $13 an hour (though there’s an exemption for teenage entry-level workers).

In the nation’s capital, council members gave the go-ahead for a 2016 ballot initiative on a $15 minimum wage.

In national news, legislation was introduced on Wednesday by Senator Bernie Sanders and a cadre of progressive House members that would raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. Though it’s incredibly infeasible politically, it’s noteworthy that the Fight For $15 campaign has officially crossed the threshold into the U.S. Capitol. It’s also an ambitious departure from more modest Democratic minimum wage proposals in the past.

All in all, it has been a highly successful week for minimum wage campaigns around the country. 

In Latest Adjunct Organizing Victory, Barnard Faculty Plan to Unionize

More than 230 contingent faculty members at Barnard College will be able to vote to form a union with the United Auto Workers Local 2110 this September, according to an announcement today. Last month, contingent faculty filed for a union with the NLRB after the UAW said more than two-thirds of contingents had petitioned in support. The Barnard College administration, however, contested the right of full-time and part-time contingent faculty to be in the same unit.

After the NLRB hearings ended last week, the college agreed to sign an election agreement that permits a union for all contingent faculty except for a small subset of full-timers who have supervisory roles. Barnard College’s President Debora Spar said in a statement that the administration “fully supports the right of these contingent faculty to make a decision for themselves and without interference.”

“We commend the College for reaching this election agreement with us rather than engaging in unnecessary conflict," said Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes New England, New York City, and Puerto Rico. “We are encouraged by the growing number of employers who have been working out neutrality agreements such as this one. All workers deserve the right to choose unionization without influence from their employers.”

“This is a positive step forward for faculty,” adjunct lecturer Siobhan Burke said in a statement. “A union will give us a voice in our employment conditions. By lessening the precariousness of our economic situation as employees, it will allow us to stay focused on our role as educators.”

While not typically thought of as a higher education union, the United Auto Workers is one of a handful of non-traditional education unions—including SEIU and United Steelworkers—that has been active in adjunct organizing in recent years. For more on the range of union organizing strategies within the burgeoning adjunct movement, read my in-depth exploration: “When Adjuncts Go Union.”

UAW’s Region 9A has been particularly successful with higher education organizing. Most notably, it has organized contingent faculty at The New School, New York University, and Goddard College. It’s also had success getting contracts for graduate assistants at New York University since 2002 and has long been working to organize grad students at Columbia University. Recently, more than 2,000 graduate workers at the University of Connecticut won union recognition.

There are a number of other schools in the region with adjuncts and graduate workers who are actively reaching out to UAW for organizing support.

Given the early support that Barnard adjuncts have shown for unionization, it’s likely that the September vote will pass. What remains to be seen is how much the union can get in concessions from the college in terms of pay increases, job stability, and health benefits. It’s worth noting that some of the biggest contract wins for adjuncts have come from wealthy universities like Tufts, Northeastern, and Boston University. Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts college in New York City that has long been affiliated with Columbia University, might just be able to dole out a generous contract. 

Court Upholds Delaware Dark Money Disclosure Law

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District upheld the constitutionality of Delaware’s Election Disclosure Act. The 2012 law, which is a transparency safeguard instituted after Citizens United v. FEC, closed the loophole allowing outside groups to evade disclosure as long as their ads, known as “sham issue ads,” refrained from expressly advocating for a certain candidate’s victory or defeat.

For instance, the ad could simply say “Call Senator So-and-So and tell them to stop doing such and such.” The 2012 disclosure act stipulates that if an outside political group mentions any Delaware candidate in a message, it must identify itself and who its main donors are. And in upholding the law, a three-judge panel unanimously rejected the plaintiff’s argument that disclosure should be confined specifically to instances of “express advocacy.”

“The Delaware Elections Disclosure Act promotes transparency in elections, which the Supreme Court has long recognized as a vital governmental interest, and yesterday’s ruling ensures that Delaware voters will continue to have access to the information they need to make informed decisions on Election Day,” said Tara Malloy, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, in a statement.

Campaign finance reform advocates call this law one of the strongest state disclosure laws in the country. It’s actually largely based on federal law that was passed in the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, which was the last major act of campaign finance reform at the federal level. There are a number of states that have instituted similar provisions that keep unaccountable groups from swaying voters.

Chalk this up as one small win in the broader fight to expose the big-money billionaires who run rampant in our brave, new post-Citizens world.

Scott Walker Weasels Away from Campaign Coordination Investigation

A shocking decision came down from the Wisconsin Supreme Court today that quite literally destroys a longstanding investigation into whether Governor Scott Walker illegally coordinated with right-wing political groups during his 2012 recall campaign. This comes just three days after he formally announced his presidential run.

As ThinkProgress reports, the court, voting along partisan lines, ruled that in order to “prevent the chilling of otherwise protected speech” investigators must “permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation” and ordered that all those accused of illegal coordination doesn’t have to cooperate with investigators any longer.

Watchdog groups have called out the court for refusing to recuse justices with very clear conflicts of interest. And in one of those lovely twists of fate only found in the world of American politics, the groups that Walker allegedly coordinated with were fundamental in electing a number of the conservative judges currently on the bench.

The decision is a devastating blow for campaign finance reform advocates because a successful investigation could have set broad precedent for future political campaigns. It is possible, according to The New York Times, that the decision will be appealed before the United States Supreme Court.

“This decision effectively eviscerates contribution limits in Wisconsin,” said Daniel Weiner, senior counsel at the Brennan Center, in a statement. “By limiting the reach of Wisconsin coordination rules to ‘express advocacy,’ for or against candidates, the court has made campaign finance law extraordinarily easy to evade. No other court has gone this far and for good reason—it is a misreading of the law and threatens fair and transparent elections.”

Here’s a very helpful video from The New York Times on why it’s so easy—despite campaign law—for politicians to coordinate with super PACs and other shadowy groups.

For more on the pile of dark money that Scott Walker has used throughout his slithery political ascension, read Prospect columnist Adele Stan’s detailing of his long history of donor scandals.

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