Punching back: Politics and Pizza are not a good combo

You have probably heard by now that President Obama hosted two Minnesotans at his State of the Union address to help make the case for raising the minimum wage. Punch Pizza CEO, John Sorrano and one of his young employees, Nick Chute, were featured guests in the gallery.

President Obama praised Punch Pizza’s decision to raise wages for most employees to $10 an hour. (I have heard that tipped employees do not get $10.)

We have a problem, Mr. President: the decision by Punch Pizza did not make the case for raising the minimum wage.

How do you say, “Au contraire!” in Italian?

Punch Pizza’s owners freely made a business decision to pay certain employees more money. Their (well publicized) decision makes the case for owners being free to run their businesses—including setting compensation levels—without interference and unreasonable regulations from the government.

President Obama made this seemingly innocuous request:

“Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead: Do what you can to raise your employees’ wages.” 

Do what you can? That sounds so polite, so deferential.

How can they follow Punch Pizza’s lead if they are forced by the law to do so? Why does Obama (and Rep. Winkler, the champion of this cause here) think that he knows how to run other people’s businesses from Washington?

Worse yet, instead of going to Congress to ask for legislation, Obama is just going to unilaterally pick a number for new federal contracts ($10.10) and declare it so by executive order. I wonder, why just $10.10 an hour? Why not $20 or $50 an hour? What would our Harvard-trained president and state representative say to that?

Back to Punch Pizza and its co-owners, Sorrano and the Pucketts— Here is co-owner, John Puckett of Caribou fame in the Strib: Our decision had nothing to do with politics, that’s what makes the recognition by the President and First Lady such an honor. Punch made the decision to give raises purely based on what is best for our business and our employees,” co-owner John Puckett said in a statement.

Sell it somewhere else! Everyone knows when you are a guest of the White House at the State of the Union address that you are a prop for the president’s policy.

Co-owners John and Kim Puckett have always talked about paying people more as part of their business model—and how they see that as a strength. They pay their general managers $100,000 a year.  I am delighted that they apparently have a successful, growing business but how would the Pucketts feel if the government told them they could NOT pay their general managers $100,000? (It’s a bit excessive don’t you think?)

What happens if we have a business downturn and Punch Pizza needs to reduce wages to keep their employees but it no longer has that choice because the law makes it pay more?

Someone needs to ask if Punch Pizza would be a success today, employing lots of good folks, if it had been forced to pay $10 an hour right from the start.

This is a sad turn of events and one that hits close to home. Punch Pizza was one of those places the Crockett family could agree on for dinner when no one wanted to cook. It was an occasional treat (not a cheap night compared to other “fast” food but worth the price once in a while).

The Crocketts will not be enjoying Punch Pizza anymore.