Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Could LA's $15 Minimum Wage Sweep the Nation?

| Thu May 21, 2015 4:46 PM EDT
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti after announcing his support for a $15 minimum wage.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles became the third major West Coast city to pass a $15 minimum wage ordinance. Though the law won't fully go into effect until 2020, it's a huge deal. LA is larger than San Francisco and Seattle, the two other $15-an-hour cities, combined. It also has a much larger contingent of low-wage workers. The ordinance will give a raise to an estimated 750,000 Angelenos, or about 46 percent of the city's workforce.

LA's wage hike points to the potential for a major minimum wage boost to sweep the country. Although experts disagree about the LA measure's impact on growth and employment, the City Council passed it by a 14-to-1 margin. The $15 wage polls well in LA and nationally, despite a dearth of national politicians pushing for such a large increase. If organizers play their cards right, this suggests a $15 wage could gain traction in other cities.

"The facts and campaign brought to bear in LA were in many ways only a next step in the move to address income inequality."

So how did it happen? The original proposal, after all, was a more modest one. The measure's backers attribute their success to a combination of grassroots and national organizing. The umbrella group leading the push, the Raise the Wage Coalition, includes more than 260 local organizations from labor, business, entertainment, and the civil rights movement. It marshaled economic studies to justify a $15 wage and delivered more than 100,000 petition signatures in favor. But it also benefited from what organizers call "air support"—the national campaign to pressure Walmart and McDonald's into implementing a $15-an-hour base wage.

"It created a narrative that made it really hard for council members to simply look past the realities of what hard-working people are experiencing," says Rusty Hicks, executive secretary treasurer of the LA County Federation of Labor. "The facts and campaign brought to bear in LA were in many ways only a next step in the move to address income inequality."

The organizers are already eyeing other SoCal cities. "It is not our intention to just stop in LA," says Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union in California and co-organizer, with Hicks, of Raise the Wage Coalition. "We need to raise the wage all across the region."

The group's next most likely contenders are Pasadena and West Hollywood.

The 85-Year-Old Nun Who Went to Prison for Embarrassing the Feds Is Finally Free

| Tue May 19, 2015 4:17 PM EDT
Sister Megan Rice

Sister Megan Rice, the 85-year-old activist nun who two years ago humiliated government officials by penetrating and vandalizing a supposedly ultra-high-security uranium storage facility, has finally been released from prison. A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the 2013 sabotage convictions of Rice and two fellow anti-nuclear activists, Michael Walli, 66, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 59, ruling that that their actions—breaking into Tennessee's Y-12 National Security Complex and spreading blood on a uranium storage bunker—did not harm national security.

Rice's case has become the subject of intense media scrutiny, including a recent New Yorker profile by Eric Schlosser, whose latest book exposed gaping flaws in America's nuclear weapons program. The activists now await re-sentencing on a lesser charge of damaging federal property. The punishment is expected to be less than the two years they've already spent in federal prison.

Speaking with Rice over the phone this afternoon, I asked her how it feels to be free. "Not that much different, because none of us is free," she said, "and it looks like we are going to go on being un-free for as long as there is a nuclear weapon waiting."

Asked on Democracy Now this morning about her experience in federal prison, Rice gave a response worthy of Sister Jane Ingalls, a character from the Netflix prison drama Orange Is the New Black, who was clearly inspired by Rice. "They are the ones who are the wisest in this country," she said of her fellow inmates. "They know what is really happening. They are the fallout of nuclear weapons production."

Skip to the 33-minute mark to watch the interview:

Asians Are Kicking Ass in Silicon Valley, So Why Are So Few in the Boardroom?

| Thu May 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Asians are far less likely than whites to land tech leadership roles. Ascend

When people talk about the need for diversity in tech, they aren't usually talking about Asian Americans. Though they make up less than 6 percent of the overall workforce, Asians account for a whopping 17 percent of all tech-sector workers and a far higher percentage of engineers. (At Twitter, for instance, people of Asian descent hold 34 percent of the technical positions.) By focusing exclusively on the obvious need for more blacks, Latinos, and women in Silicon Valley, however, diversity advocates have missed a key point: Asian workers are far less likely than whites to end up in the leadership ranks.

White workers were 2.5 times more likely than Asian workers to end up in leadership roles, the study found.

According to a study that the nonprofit Ascend Foundation released last week, white workers are two and a half times more likely then their Asian counterparts to serve as executives at major tech companies. The study, which examined the workforce demographics at Google, HP, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, found that the "Asian effect" was nearly four times greater than gender as a glass-ceiling factor. (The authors also pointed to leadership gaps for blacks and Latinos, but dismissed those results as less statistically significant, given how few blacks and Latinos are employed by the industry overall.)

The finding for Asians is notable, among other reasons, for what it says about the case of Ellen Pao, whose unsuccessful sex discrimination case against her former employer, the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, obsessed the technology press. Though the particulars of her case are unique, the study suggests that Pao, as an Asian American, was 40 percent as likely as a white woman and 28 percent as likely as a white man to land in a leadership role.

"Asians are generally stereotyped as being nonconfrontational or timid," says Pandora's Lisa Lee, "so they may be overlooked."

The "bamboo ceiling," as author Jane Hyun terms it, is hardly limited to technology, but its existence in a sector where Asians are thriving illustrates the intractability of the problem. Hyun blames the workers for the promotion gap, arguing that they need to take a page from Sheryl Sandberg and "lean in." But other observers, such as Lisa Lee, a senior diversity manager for Pandora, point to the need for companies to curb their preconceptions about who will make a good leader.

"Asians and Asian Americans are generally stereotyped as being nonconfrontational or timid," says Lee, the former publisher of Hyphen, a magazine about the Asian-American experience. "So they may be overlooked for leadership roles because they're not thought of as leadership material. This has nothing to do with their actual skills or abilities. Part of the solution is companies making a concerted effort to address bias in the promotion process to ensure it's more fair for everyone."

There may be additional factors at play. Mario Lugay, a program officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which advocates for diversity in tech, makes the point that non-Asians are quick to lump Asians into one category, whereas Silicon Valley, for example, includes economically disadvantaged Southeast Asians and foreign-born workers from a variety of cultures. "My hope is that we strive to research and address the nuances of underrepresentation," says Lugay, who is Filipino. "That includes the diversity within the category of Asian, as well as Asian Americans."

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