Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a senior writing fellow for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

The Labor Movement: A Year in Review

A lot has happened on the labor beat in the past year, and a lot of it good. Here's a look at the Prospect's coverage of workers' rights and unions since last Labor Day.

(Photo: AP/Seth Wenig)
(Photo: AP/Seth Wenig) Protesters in New York rally for higher pay in front of a McDonald's on April 15, 2015. A ll in all, the year between yesterday’s Labor Day and last year’s had a surprising amount of good news for workers. No, their incomes weren’t rising, their rate of unionization was still dismally low, the Republican governor of Illinois is hell-bent on destroying the state’s public-sector unions, and if Sam Alito gets his way, the Supreme Court will try to gut those unions during its next session. All that said, during the past 12 months, workers made more gains in legislation, administrative rulings, and some courts—including the court of public opinion— than they had since before the Reagan years. At The American Prospect , we remain dedicated to the plight of working people, labor unions, and the organized-worker movement more generally, and are committed to covering the daily fights for worker justice. In recognition of that fact, here’s a round-up of our best labor...

The For-Profit College Industry Is Losing its Most Loyal Politician

Congressman John Kline is not exactly a household name, even to D.C. politicos. And for the past dozen years, he’s preferred it that way. Kline has successfully flown under the radar while quietly becoming one of the most powerful politicians on education policy, reaching his apex in 2011 when he took the helm of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

Kline, who represents Minnesota’s 2nd District, announced yesterday that he will not be seeking reelection in 2016. While most are likely focused on the fact that this opens up a crucial seat in a noted swing district, you can be sure that the for-profit higher education industry is heartbroken.

That’s because Kline has notoriously been the industry’s closest political ally, taking gobs of contributions from for-profit education groups while fighting back regulations on the Hill designed to rein in the problematic sector. Nobody in Congress has taken more money from for-profits than John Kline—and since his appointment as the head of the education committee, his coffers have been flooded.

In 2010, he received $57,000 from for-profit institutions, according to OpenSecrets. In 2012, $204,000. And in 2014, $186,000. The money comes from the biggest (and most lucrative) for-profit education groups in the country. Most notable of them all is Apollo Education Group, which owns the biggest for-profit chain, University of Phoenix. In 2013-2014, the group spent nearly $400,000 in campaign contributions and in 2014 alone spent nearly $1.4 million in lobbying.

As the industry has exploded over the last ten years, so has its political influence and lobbying presence. Given that these schools are heavily dependent on federal student loans, wielding power at the Capitol is essential. The industry has become a political target for reform as it has become known for predatory recruiting tactics, lackluster training, and abysmal student outcomes. Recruiters regularly target low-income minority students who are prime candidates for financial aid, as well as military veterans who have GI Bill funding. When President Obama pledged to regulate the industry in 2010, lobbying became a priority. In 2009, the industry spent $2.9 million in lobbying; by 2011, that number reached $12.5 million.

The money has paid off so far as legislative reforms have run into various roadblocks. That’s mostly thanks to John Kline, who controls what education policy comes before his committee. In 2014, a bill that would have prevented for-profits from milking the federal aid system and targeting military veterans died within 15 minutes of being introduced in his committee. Kline said that the bill was “nongermane” to his hearing on financial aid.

Time and time again, Kline has used his position in Congress to beat back attempts at regulating for-profits all the while claiming that his biggest campaign contributors have no influence on his politics.

So as Kline announces his impending retirement, let’s keep an eye on what he does with the rest of his term as the gatekeeper on education policy. It will also be interesting to see the industry scramble as they try to find a replacement lap dog to continue championing their right to profit off the exploitation of vulnerable students. 

The Labor Prospect: Employing Standards

A game-changing decision from the NLRB, Uber drivers launch a class-action lawsuit, and the struggle to pay tuition on minimum wage. 

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green McDonald's workers and supporters rally outside a McDonald's, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Chicago. Welcome to The Labor Prospect, our weekly round-up highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. I n case you haven’t heard (and we can’t imagine how you couldn’t have), the NLRB announced a blockbuster decision that could turn modern labor relations on its head. In its Browning-Ferris case, the labor board ruled that companies are legally joint-employers with their contractors, staffing agencies, and franchisees. “With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances,” an NLRB statement read. What does this mean? Essentially, when contract, franchise, or temp workers unionize and bargain a contract, the company who has hired their employer...

How the NLRB Just Radically Changed Labor Relations

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board finally released its much-anticipated decision on a case that sets a new paradigm for labor relations and will likely send ripples through the workforce, particularly in the contracting and franchise sectors of the economy.

“The decision today could be one of the more significant by the NLRB in the last 35 years,” a labor lawyer who helped the Chamber of Commerce try to oppose the case told The New York Times.

The case pertained to whether the company Browning-Ferris was legally a joint employer of people hired by a contractor to staff the company’s recycling center. Ruling 3-2 along partisan lines, the NLRB answered with a resounding “absolutely.”

“It is not the goal of joint-employer law to guarantee the freedom of employers to insulate themselves from their legal responsibility to workers, while maintaining control of the workplace,” the Democratic majority wrote. “Such an approach has no basis in the act or in federal labor policy.”

The decision overturns decades of precedent that was set by the business-friendly Reagan-era NLRB. Defining a company and its contractors or franchisees as joint employers removes a shield that has been used by businesses to minimize costs, and in doing so, leave many workers with lower pay and limited protections.

As the Times explains, this decision will require parent companies, in addition to the contractor, to come to the bargaining table if its workers unionize. Previously, companies have fired contractors when their workers unionize, which would now be illegal.

While this case directly applies to contractors and the companies who hire them, labor experts are more interested in the pathways that this opens up for current efforts to organize fast-food workers. Companies like McDonald’s have long argued that they have no substantive influence over how its numerous franchisees operate their businesses, and thus aren’t the actual employers of the franchise workers. This ruling substantively means that McDonald’s, with its 12,500 franchise operations, is now a joint employer of 660,000 people.

Union organizers with the Fight for 15 and SEIU now have a considerable amount of leverage against McDonald’s headquarters. If one franchise store unionizes, corporate must come to the table as well. As Steven Greenhouse writes in The Atlantic, there are a number of pathways that union-organizing strategists are considering. They could get McDonald’s to sit down and agree to higher wages for both its corporate and franchise stores. Or they could launch a union push at so-called “hot shops” that are primed to unionize, which could feasibly result in dozens of unionized stores within a year.

The question then is how to avoid drawn-out contract negotiations. But still, it’s a breakthrough for the most vibrant labor-organizing movement in the country, and it gives organizers many more strategic options.

Apart from fast food, the decision will also have a profound impact on companies that outsource many functions to contractors. There’s been an uptick of union organizing among workers at staffing agencies or contractors hired by big tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. For instance, software-bug testers contracted by Microsoft recently voted to unionize. The NLRB decision would now require these tech giants to join its contractors at the bargaining table if workers unionize.

This is huge because it gives the ever-growing amount of temp, contingent, and contract workers a way to hold big companies more accountable for pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Not surprisingly, big business has been bracing for the decision and is not happy with the outcome. Lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce and others in the big-biz lobby are pushing Republicans to overturn the NLRB ruling.

A vice president for the National Retail Federation had this to say: “This is further evidence that the NLRB has given up its position as an objective arbiter of workplace issues and sees itself as an advocate for organized labor as a means of imposing new workplace obligations and legal liabilities on well-known corporations.” Because, you know, increasing accountability for harmful business practices ain’t really copacetic with the corporate agenda.

The Political Legacy of O’Malley’s Gerrymandered Maryland

‘Governor Gerrymander’ could have made a bad map better; instead he made it worse.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, speaks before the National Urban League, Friday, July 31, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A fter the 2010 Tea-Party-fueled Republican takeover of the House, the Democratic Party was desperate to regain the congressional seats they’d lost in 2012. Democrats in the deep-blue state of Maryland had a rare opportunity. If they got creative with the upcoming redistricting of the state, they could likely flip a congressional seat from red to blue. They succeeded. But the result was what many have called the most blatantly gerrymandered congressional district map in the entire country. Operating in a deep blue state, Maryland’s Democratic Party has long utilized the redistricting process as a thinly veiled political maneuver to entrench its power. In 2011, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is now vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, led that partisan gerrymandering...

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