by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This forum is full of entries detailing the problems associated with raising the government–mandated minimum wage. The latest TIME magazine focuses on the politics of the debate, profiling a leading minimum-wage opponent.
[T]he voice that may matter most is one many Americans have never heard of: Richard “Rick” Berman, a public relations guru and former lobbyist who claims to speak for the small-business owners who run the nation’s diners and corner stores. Berman has been arguing against the minimum wage for years on the grounds that it destroys jobs. He’s used a network of nonprofits to bludgeon his ideological opponents.
Dubbed Dr. Evil by his enemies, Berman uses rhetoric so brash that it polarizes even within the industry he’s been hired to defend. The television and newspaper advertisements he devised on behalf of industry have helped lay the groundwork for the minimum-wage fight in 2014. In a debate that lends itself to spin, Berman may be the most vilified spinmaster. But he may also be the key to understanding how disagreement over raising a wage earned by a mere 4.7% of the hourly workforce can send politicians into a paroxysm of recrimination and contradiction.
If you watch Fox News, you may have already seen the latest ad. A couple are dining at a restaurant when their waiter suddenly evaporates, leaving an iPad in his place. “Every time you use a self-checkout lane or even a touchscreen ordering system, it’s a task that used to be part of someone’s job description,” a narrator explains gravely. “When you raise the minimum wage, a new government report confirms that up to 1 million jobs will disappear,” the voice continues, referring to the CBO.
The ad, produced by his eponymous public relations firm, is classic Berman. Which is to say blunt. At 6 ft. 3 in., Berman cuts an imposing figure, with his wide-set shoulders and pitched, hairless dome. The 71-year-old speaks in declarative bursts–the sound bites seem to come without effort–with a hint of his native Bronx accent. Supporters think of him as the Wayne LaPierre of the restaurant industry, a true believer unafraid to talk straight. “People are not paid based on what they need,” Berman says. “They are paid based on what they can contribute.”