Fast-food mogul Andy Puzder opposes minimum wage hikes, steals workers’ pay, violates overtime laws and forces employees onto public assistance
St. Louis –As the Senate confirmation hearing of fast-food mogul Andy Puzder as U.S. Secretary of Labor faced potential delay, St. Louis cooks and cashiers who are part of the Fight for $15 led protests Jan. 12 at the Hardee’s corporate offices in St. Louis — part of a nationwide wave of actions to denounce the nomination of a CEO who is a symbol of the very rigged economy Donald Trump vowed to fix.
Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and other underpaid workers from coast-to-coast rallied against Puzder, who as CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, presided over companies that stole workers’ wages, violated overtime laws and forced employees onto public assistance.
The protest in St. Louis was one of two dozen planned from coast-to-coast Jan. 12 ahead of Puzder’s confirmation hearing. Workers carried signs that read “I’m not a robot and yes, I will sue if sexually harassed” and “Andy Puzder makes more in a day than I do in a year.”
In an interview last year, Puzder said he prefers machines to workers because they “never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
‘THE WRONG CHOICE’
“I’m trying to support myself and my children on $9 an hour,” said Terrance Dixon, 32, who works at Hardee’s in St. Louis. “I love to learn new skills and be the best at what I do, but there I never see a reward for my hard work. We keep Andy Puzder’s business going, and he can’t even be bothered to keep us out of poverty. I’m worried that if he becomes labor secretary, more people will have to live the way I live, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. If he thinks that minimum wage with no raises or benefits is acceptable, then I think he is the wrong choice for labor secretary.”
FIGHT ISN’T GOING TO STOP
“We’re out here today because we need to make it clear that our fight for $15 an hour and a union isn’t going to stop,” said Frances Holmes, 54, who works at McDonald’s in St. Louis. “We need to make it clear that Andy Puzder has been a terrible CEO for Hardee’s workers, and would be a terrible labor secretary for all workers in America. This is a man who wants to replace workers with robots. This is a man who doesn’t want to provide his workers with health care. This is a man who has failed to respond to wage theft and sexual harassment complaints. This is a man who’s low wages have cost taxpayers $300 million a year to subsidize. He hasn’t been good to his own workers, how can we expect him to be a good labor secretary?”
According to CKE’s financial disclosures, Puzder, who is the fast-food company’s CEO, was paid between $4 million and $10 million in recent years, which means he makes more in one day than he pays his minimum wage workers in one year. Despite this, he has been an outspoken opponent of minimum wage hikes that would allow his workers to meet their basic needs.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found in 2013 that fast-food CEOs like Puzder cost taxpayers $7.3 billion per year in public assistance by holding down pay for their employees.
Puzder has also opposed basic protections and workers’ rights, like meal and rest breaks for employees working long hours. Puzder has also supported repealing the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid, even while he forces his own workers to rely on these programs by denying them health care.
As labor secretary, Puzder would be charged with upholding many of the labor laws and regulations CKE routinely violated during his time as CEO. In 60 percent of Department of Labor investigations since 2009, CKE restaurants and franchises were found to have violated wage and hour laws. Since Puzder became CEO of CKE in 2000, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which falls under the DOL, has found 98 safety violations at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations, with 36 of them capable of causing death or grave physical harm.
CONFIRMATION BATTLE FOLLOWS BANNER YEAR IN FIGHT FOR $15
Puzder’s confirmation battle follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with a rigged economy that benefits the few at the top, and after a banner year in the fight for $15 an hour and union rights. Nineteen states raised pay for 4.3 million working people at the end of 2016, including in four states where voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives on Election Day 2016.
In the four states, “yes” votes exceeded the vote totals for either of the major parties’ presidential candidates – striking proof of the broad public support for raising wages across party lines and in different regions of the country. The New Yorker recently hailed its successes as one of the five biggest business stories of 2016.
Since fast-food workers launched the Fight for $15 over four years ago, the movement has won wage hikes for 22 million underpaid workers, including more than 10 million who are on their way to $15 an hour, by convincing everyone from voters to politicians to corporations to raise pay. The movement, which has resulted in $62 billion raises for America’s workers, was credited as one of the reasons median income jumped last year by the highest percentage since the 1960s.