The Wage Warrior

President Obama wants to raise the minimum wage. It's Richard Berman's job to stop him

Ethan Hill / Redux for TIME

If you want to make some new friends and just as many enemies, here's a helpful shortcut: take a position on raising the federal minimum wage. The question of how much workers at the bottom should be paid is fast becoming one of the most divisive issues in Washington. Liberals say a wage hike is the most immediate and fair tool we have to address growing inequality; conservatives argue that such a move would destroy jobs, throwing America's wobbly recovery off its axis for good. Get ready to hear a lot more about it between now and the November midterms as Democrats and Republicans fight over the merits of an increase, which 76% of Americans favor, according to Gallup.

The 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. Dubbed Dr. Evil by his enemies, he may 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.

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