This billboard is just a mock-up, but it expropriates Justin Bieber’s image nonetheless.

Justin Bieber has been co-opted by the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco lobby in Washington, which is using his image in its latest campaign against a hike in the federal minimum wage. Does Justin really believe this stuff?

Bieber’s face appears on billboards claiming that a hike in the federal minimum wage will lead to fewer jobs for teens.

“Why is Justin Bieber so sad?” asks says the billboard, put up by a group called “Could it be because 24% of teens who want a job can’t find one?”

Teen unemployment is high as a result of the financial meltdown and the lingering effects of the Great Recession. The connection to the minimum wage is specious as best. But not if you’re in an industry that relies on cheap labor and underemployment to maximize profits.

The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is behind and it’s anti-minimum wage campaign. The EPI claims to be a “non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth,” according to its website.

But the “institute,” founded in 1991, is actually the creation of lobbyist Rick Berman, who heads Berman & Co., a Washington, D.C. public relations firms that represents restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.

You can bet the institute’s policy positions are dedicated to employment issues so long as those issues don’t go against the industries funding it. In fact, the EPI is housed in the same offices as Berman & Co., according to its 2005 income tax return, which is available to the public.


The billboard’s message is clear: “Teen unemployment makes us all sad. Unfortunately, raising the minimum wage will only make things worse.”

But get this, the EPI may be using Justin’s image without his permission, according to a disclaimer. “Justin Bieber’s image on this billboard does not imply his endorsement of any particular minimum wage policy or an endorsement of the Employment Policies Institute.”

Using a celebrity’s image for commercial purposes without permission is a clear violation of copyright. Hard to believe the Bieb’s would support this position. The billboard, however, is only a mockup.

The Obama administration is currently seeking to raise the minimum wage to $9 a hour by 2015 from the current $7.25 per hour. A Reason-Rupe poll in March found that two-thirds of Americans favor the proposal, although the number falls to 37 percent if the move will cost jobs.

The administration argues that the increase would stimulate the economy by putting more money into low-income workers’ pockets, which would lead to an increase in sales. Adjusted for inflation the current federal minimum wage is lower than it was in 1968.