President Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, should finally have a confirmation hearing this Thursday—after four separate delays. His nomination process has been fraught since it was announced two months ago: The media has surfaced allegations ranging from past mob ties, to disputed allegations of domestic assault, to illegally avoiding taxes by paying a housekeeper under the table. The parade of scandals has caused some Senate Republicans to question whether the mega-rich CEO of CKE Restaurants, the corporation that operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., is qualified to lead the Labor Department.
These allegations may be what ultimately derail Puzder’s path to confirmation, but it’s actually his virulently anti-worker behavior that should disqualify him from being the nation’s top advocate for working people.
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Despite Trump’s often-repeated campaign promise to stand up for working Americans, his nominee is a longtime advocate for gutting worker protection laws and silencing workers’ voices on the job. While this may be good news for CEOs in fast food and other low-wage industries, it’s bad news for the people Trump has sworn to protect.
Even though Americans’ wages have been stagnant for years, Puzder opposes government policies that would increase wages and improve job quality. He opposed the recent rule that would expand overtime so that it would reach 4.2 million more workers, he has scoffed at the idea that workers may need to take rest breaks over the course of their shift, and he has argued that “some jobs don’t produce enough economic value” to justify raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Carl’s Jr. practices in other countries undermine Puzder’s argument that the market couldn’t bear a higher wage. At its 20 locations in New Zealand, the chain must pay at least the federal minimum wage of $15.25 per hour (or $11.07 in American dollars). The chain is also planning to open up 300 stores in Australia, where the law requires that adult fast food workers be paid at least $19.44 per hour (nearly $15 in American dollars) with hourly pay premiums for overtime and night shift work.
But here in the U.S., Puzder’s company may have failed to even comply with the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. In a 2014 investigation of a corporate-owned Hardee’s in Alabama, government investigators alleged that workers were being paid less than the federal minimum wage because CKE was paying workers with fee-laden prepaid debit cards. And just last week, two Carl’s Jr. employees filed suit against CKE and its franchises, claiming that the companies use “no-hire agreements” that prevent managers from moving to new jobs with higher pay. The company released a statement saying it will not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.
Workers have filed dozens of other complaints against Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. stores for wage theft, overtime violations, sexual harassment, and unfair labor practices. A spokesperson for CKE restaurants said the company will not comment on the pending litigation, but argued—despite a recent report to the contrary—that the franchise restaurant owners are “solely responsible for their employees, management, and adherence to regulations and labor practices.”
In addition to opposing a living wage and basic worker protections, Puzder has made it clear that he prefers workers who do not—or cannot—advocate for better conditions. As an employer, he has reasoned that immigrant workers make better employees since they have what he refers to as a “‘Thank God I have this job’ kind of attitude,” which presumably translates to a hesitance to speak up when there are problems. He also looks forward to one day operating completely automated employee-free restaurants since machines are “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.”
These individual anti-worker beliefs and practices culminate in Puzder’s desire to silence the voice and power of working Americans by dismantling unions. He is a vocal critic of the Fight for $15, and he opposes reforms that would hold franchisors accountable for discrimination against workers who participate in protests and strikes. At least one former Hardee’s franchise employee alleges that she was fired for her involvement in protests to demand higher wages and a union.
Puzder’s disdain for unions extends beyond the fast food industry where he has a clear self-interest. When Walmart announced last year that it would close 154 stores (the vast majority of which were smaller stores) in an effort to focus on supercenters and e-commerce, he ignored Walmart’s own statement and blamed workers for the closures. With no evidence to back up his claim, Puzder penned an op-ed faulting a worker group for the closures.
This sort of right-wing opposition to unions and workers’ collective voice isn’t new—but with a Republican-controlled White House and Congress the stakes are higher. The government will likely debate legislative proposals and administrative changes that could cripple unions by cutting their funding and membership.
If Puzder continues to take aggressively anti-union positions as labor secretary, it will not just be bad for union members. Unions help raise wages, reduce inequality, and boost economic mobility for all workers—whether or not they’re in a union. And without organized labor, working people lose negotiating power in the workplace and in government—whether it’s their ability to negotiate for higher wages or to defend policies like Social Security and Medicaid that protect the middle class.
So much for Trump’s promise to protect and fight for American workers.