Coalition Supporting Minimum Wage Hike Includes Mystics, Sex Shop Owners

Analysis: Labor Secretary Tom Perez met with coalition that includes small businesses with no employees

Tom Perez / AP
January 28, 2014

Labor Secretary Tom Perez is calling on companies and economists skeptical of minimum wage hikes to listen to the sex shop owners, acupuncturists, and spiritual healers that have joined the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage (BFMW) coalition—a group some members do not recall actually joining.

Perez met with 20 representatives from the BFMW last week and concluded that the $10.10 minimum wage proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) would improve the bottom line for businesses, rather than force layoffs and hour reductions, as many economists and companies have said.

"I learned it’s not just workers who support a federal increase," Perez wrote in a blog post about the meeting. "What I heard from these business owners is that raising the wage would help their businesses, too, by putting more money in the pockets of those in their communities."

The BFMW, which organized the Perez summit, has attracted support from high-profile businessmen, such as Costco CEO and Obama adviser Craig Jelineck. But a Washington Free Beacon review of the "hundreds" of signatories the coalition has gathered reveals some members that may surprise you.

For example, BFMW’s cause has struck a nerve with a number of new age healers: The federal petition garnered support from a number of homeopaths, spiritual healers, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors.

One of them is Rev. Tama Bell, B.S., B.Msc., a belly dancer, "Metaphysical and Spiritual Healer, Ordained Minister, Energy and Root Worker, Hypnotherapist," who owns the Spiritual Awareness Center in Poughkeepsie, NY.

However, Bell is unsure how the group obtained her name, let alone her endorsement.

"I don’t remember visiting this site at all. That’s interesting," Bell said in an interview. "I certainly am for fair minimum wage, so I don’t mind being associated on this page, but I’m just wondering how it got on there."

Bell does not consider herself a businesswoman. She’s a self-described activist. She accepts barter as payment and often provides free "holistic healthcare" to poor residents in the Poughkeepsie area. She thinks that Harkin’s bill does not go far enough.

"I basically support anyone who wants the min wage to be fair. I personally think $15 would be just barely fair," she said. "I never signed it."

Rev. Bell later called back to clarify that she "never signed it," adding, "I did some digging and found out the Washington Free Beacon reports from a conservative position … if you contact me again I will call the FBI."

BFMW spokesman Bob Keener said it is "entirely possible that someone could sign another person up if they knew enough information," but added that Rev. Bell’s case was an anomaly. Internal records show that her name appeared on the New York State petition in 2012 and again on the federal petition in 2013, he said.

"I’m sure she just forgot, which is typical of people who sign lots of petitions," Keener said.

In order to join BFMW’s ranks, one is required to provide a name, company, and state. Information such as the number of employees, company website, and reasons for signing the petition are not required to join the group.

The open sign-up process has contributed to other oversights. Some signatories did not provide the group with real names. Helgaleena Healingline, who is listed as the owner of Wisconsin’s The Healing Line, is "the nom de plume of a Reformed Druid of North America living quietly in southern Wisconsin USA."

The Healing Line website linked on BFMW’s site does not exist and an Internet search for Helgaleena appears to produce more "erotic fan fiction" than material goods. Calls to the Healing Line went unreturned.

The majority of BFMW’s work has focused on reframing the debate to show that minimum wage increases are supported by more than just labor unions, activists, and low-income workers.

The meeting with Perez, Keener said, helped draw attention to the silent majority that supports minimum wage increases.

"He found it helpful to hear from business owners. It’s good for him to hear that there are business owners who want to see it increased because it is opposed by a vocal minority of folks who claim to speak for all business," he said.

Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute, said the prevalence of one-man shops casts doubts on the group’s claim that it speaks for employers.

"Ridiculous antics are the stock-in-trade of wage activists, but this new list of ‘businesses’ who support a higher minimum wage clearly represents a new low," he said. "If a business owner doesn’t have any employees, it’s tough to see how they’d appreciate the cost impact of a 40% wage hike."

However, Keener said the group’s signatories span the spectrum of business types and are representative of the attitudes of most small business owners.

"We all know that the majority of small businesses are small, 1 or 2 people," he said. "The reality is when you poll small business owners, a large percentage—67 percent that we polled 6 months ago—supported increasing the minimum wage"

While BFMW organizers trotted out traditional employers to meet with Perez, many signatories represent niche markets, boutiques, and individual services.

Jacq Jones, for example, the proprietor of Sugar—"Baltimore's Best Adult Store 7 Years in a row"—signed the Maryland petition.

Jones was unavailable to comment as she is returning from Los Angeles where she held a seminar titled, "Lick Her: How to Lick Pussy Like a Rock Star."

Saltsman said that the majority of the signatories are not major employers and are unlikely to be widely impacted by the minimum wage increase.

"I’m not an expert in the industry, but I doubt that sex shops are the kind of growth sector where you’d expect deep expertise on the effect of a higher minimum wage," Saltsman said.

"The economic consensus on the consequences of raising the minimum wage is crystal clear: Raising it forces businesses to scale back on job opportunities. Collecting the signatures of a few ideologically like-minded dissenters doesn’t change that."