Southern California is known for its sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and a few bustling cities. But soon it will get a dubious distinction – Carpinteria business owner and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) nominee Andrew Puzder.
To call Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominations controversial would be an understatement. It is no secret that many of Trump’s nominees have connections with corporations whose profit-driven interests are directly at odds with the federal agencies Trump has selected them to lead. In that regard, Trump’s selection of Andrew Puzder to lead Labor is no different from many of his other choices.
However, Puzder’s nomination also represents a major broken promise to working families. After all, Trump made protecting American workers a central theme of his campaign and his plan for his first 100 days in office. Despite this promise, Trump chose Puzder – a man who prefers automated robots to human employees – to be the primary advocate for workers in his administration. Instead of a labor secretary who supports working families, Trump wants to give workers an anti-labor secretary.
For more than 16 years, Puzder has served as the president and CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. headquartered in Southern California’s own Carpinteria. Although Puzder claims he will “fiercely” defend workers as secretary of labor, his financial ties incentivize him to give preferential treatment to large corporations like his own. After weeks of delay, Puzder released his plans to avoid potential conflicts of interest by divesting his CKE assets. This task is proving to be a complex one for the nominee and may take him about six months to complete. Regardless of how Puzder handles his conflicts, all workers deserve to know what type of leader he will be.
A closer look at CKE’s track record on labor rights is revealing. Puzder has garnered a reputation as an outspoken critic of many basic worker protections like meaningful minimum wage increases and overtime pay. But Puzder isn’t just a critic of labor laws — his own restaurants have violated them. For example, 108 investigations at CKE-affiliated restaurants dating back to 2004 resulted in the businesses agreeing to pay $153,921 in back wages for more than 900 employees, mostly from violations of minimum wage and overtime laws.
It is also unlikely that the health and safety of working people will be a priority for Puzder at DOL, based on his track record. According to a recent review of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s workplace inspection data, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations incurred at least 98 safety violations during Puzder’s tenure at CKE — including 36 “serious” violations that could result in death or grave physical harm to an employee.
Restaurant workers across the country are speaking out about what it’s really like to work for CKE. Managers in CKE restaurants have reported working several hours per week without pay and facing expectations to coerce or force their employees to work through meal breaks – unpaid — to keep labor costs down for the corporate bosses. Female CKE employees have also reported high rates of sexual harassment in the workplace — raising serious questions as to whether workers can trust Puzder to protect their interests as secretary of labor.
Leading the DOL is a serious responsibility. Among other obligations, the labor secretary must combat wage theft, protect workplace whistleblowers, and hold employers accountable for unsafe workplaces that cause the death of nearly 5,000 U.S. workers every year. Puzder, a CEO whose restaurants have profited from worker exploitation, is not the right candidate to carry out this vital mission.
One of the main lessons our country learned from the 2016 election is that the Americans want government to be responsive to the concerns of working families. By choosing Puzder, Trump has betrayed not only CKE’s exploited workers, but also workers nationwide who believed he would champion their rights.
Emily A. Gardner is an attorney and worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.