By TIM ROWDEN
President-elect Donald Trump has picked fast-food executive and former St. Louis lawyer Andrew Puzder as his nominee for Secretary of Labor.
That’s bad news for workers.
Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, has repeatedly argued against increases to the minimum wage or overtime pay, voiced opposition to the Affordable Care Act, complained about the need for providing rest breaks and meal breaks in the workplace and his company has reportedly been cited for wage and hour violations.
As Labor Secretary, Puzder would oversee the federal apparatus that investigates violations of minimum wage, overtime and worker safety laws and regulations.
Puzder has been the CEO of CKE Restaurants since 2000. He’s credited with turning around the Hardee’s brand, but his company also has been accused of labor violations.
According to Jobs with Justice, 60 percent of Labor Department investigations into Puzder’s Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants have found at least one wage and hour violation.
“Andrew Puzder peddles the extreme idea that raising wages could somehow hurt our country, while study after study finds that increased minimum wages boost the bottom lines of working people and Main Streets,” Jobs with Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta said. “Our country cannot afford a Labor Secretary who refuses to recognize the real struggles of what tens of millions of people go through to put food on the table.”
Gupta said there is “a clear disconnect” between President-elect Trump’s economic priorities and Puzder’s record of low wages and job-killing policies.
“While running for office, Donald Trump promised to hold all of his economic decisions to one main test, ‘Does it create more jobs and better wages for Americans?’” Gupta noted. “Yet, Andrew Puzder, as CEO of CKE Restaurants, has continually opposed minimum wage increases at the federal, state and local level, and pushed for workplace automation.
As CEO, Puzder is paid more in one day than most of his employees make in one year working at his restaurant chains.
ST. LOUIS CONNECTION
Puzder is a 1978 Washington University law school graduate and served as a trial lawyer in St. Louis through 1991, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He practiced commercial law in the St. Louis law offices of Morris A. Shenker, a lawyer for Teamsters union head Jimmy Hoffa, through 1984, then moved to the Stolar Partnership law practice.
“We’d like to hope he has at least some grasp on how labor unions work,” St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White said. “The labor secretary is supposed to be someone who advocates for good working conditions and benefits for workers, and we can only hope that he does that. That doesn’t seem to be the case in his past history. He doesn’t seem to advocate for the things that we advocate for.”
RECORD OF PRO-BUSINESS LABOR POLICIES
Indeed, Puzder has a track record of supporting pro-business labor policies, and opposition to measures President Barack Obama has taken over the last eight years to tighten regulations on wages, pay equity, union rights and overtime.
He has also advocated replacing some human workers with machine kiosks as a way for businesses to reduce costs associated with rising wages and health-care expenses.
Puzder said machines are also easier to manage than humans and don’t pose the same legal risks. “They’re always polite, they always upsell, 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,” Puzder told Business Insider in March.
Puzder has also criticized the Affordable Care Act, expressed skepticism about increasing the minimum wage and opposes additional overtime pay for workers.
The Labor Department in May finalized rules to expand overtime pay to workers earning up to $47,476, making an estimated four million lower-income people eligible. The rule, which was set to come into effect Dec. 1, was recently blocked by a federal judge in Texas. The Labor Department is appealing, but it’s unlikely the Trump administration will continue to defend it.
“I can’t imagine someone more unsuited to the job of advancing the interests of working people in America than Andy Puzder,” Robert Reich, President Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, told the Washington Post.
LABOR SPEAKS OUT
Puzder’s nomination drew immediate flak from labor leaders.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement, Puzder’s “business record is defined by fighting against working people.”
The New York-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union called Puzder’s stand on the minimum wage – he opposes raising it above $9 an hour – “shameful.”
Puzder’s appointment, which would require Senate confirmation, comes at a time when restaurants and other low-wage industries are feeling pressure to increase pay. Puzder would likely resist those pressures as labor secretary.
“Throughout his career, Andrew Puzder has shown he does not believe in the dignity of all work and has used his position to line his own pockets at the expense of workers,” said Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, whose union is the prime backer of fast food workers in their long campaign for $15 and a union.
“In 2012, Puzder made $4.4 million, a full 291 times more than the average food worker. He doesn’t support measures that would help families who work hard build a better life, such as the overtime rule, which would put more money in the pockets of millions of workers.”
Puzder “wants machines to replace workers because robots ‘never take a vacation’ – even though robots cannot ever replace the work that people do. He stood with Republican congressional leaders who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act – even though his underpaid workers and millions of working Americans depend on it for healthcare,” Henry added.
Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Center, a growing organization of fast-food workers, called Puzder “completely unacceptable.”
His record “is riddled with class action wage theft lawsuits, sexist remarks, falsehoods that paint wage increases as ‘job-killers,’ minimum wage earners as entitled teenagers and his own employees as lazy welfare recipients,” she said. His nomination threatens workers’ gains.
In response to Puzder’s nomination, the Fight for $15 released the following statement from Carl’s Jr. cook Rogelio Hernandez from Santa Monica, CA, and Hardee’s cashier Lacretia Jones from Richmond, VA:
“Putting one of the worst fast-food CEOs in charge of national labor policy sends a signal to workers that the Trump years are going to be about low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Instead of taking on the rigged economy, it seems like Trump wants to rig it up even more.”
(Information for this report from the Washington Post, the New York Times and PAI Union News Service.)