Politics of Poverty

Labor is NOT Commerce: Andrew Puzder may care about business. But does he care about workers?

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A broad coalition of organizations has come together to oppose the nomination of Andew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. In January, dozens of workers and advocates joined a protest outside the Department of Labor office in Boston. (Photo: Mary Babic / Oxfam America)

The nominee for Secretary of Labor has a disturbing track record of exploiting and disrespecting his own employees. Can we expect him to treat millions of other workers any better?

You don’t have to guess what Andrew Puzder thinks of workers. Thousands of people have first-hand experience of working in his company, CKE Restaurants. And the evidence points to one conclusion: he regards workers as line items on a “labor budget,” and values them for the money that can be extracted from their labor.

Despite this record, however, Puzder will soon go before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) as the nominee to be the Secretary of Labor. He may well end up as the head of an agency that is charged with protecting workers from unscrupulous employers.

Unscrupulous employers like his own company, CKE Restaurants. While Puzder has been at the helm of CKE (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), 60 percent of the restaurants investigated in the chain were found (by the Department of Labor!) to be denying wages to workers. The company has been the target of the highest rate of employment discrimination lawsuits among the major fast-food chains. He made a point of paying low wages and cutting corners. While he earns well over $4 million a year, he opposes raising the federal minimum wage (from the current poverty level wage of $7.25 an hour), and raising the threshold for overtime pay (from $23,000 a year to $47,476 a year). The overtime rule would benefit millions of workers, especially in the fast food industry, who are often stuck earning low salaries and still spending hours working for free.

He has criticized the concept of paid sick leave. He has complained about having to provide legally-required rest and meal breaks to employees. As the Secretary of Labor, his job would be to enforce labor laws protecting workers from sexual harassment.  In an industry where 40 percent of women report unwanted sexual contact, CKE restaurants were even worse: a recent poll by ROC United found that two thirds experienced  “unwanted sexual behaviors at work.” Puzder has a history of making dehumanizing comments towards women , and lauded his chain’s use of racy and demeaning ads: “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. It’s very American.”

Indeed, Puzder has little respect for his own workers, having characterized people who work in the fast-food industry as “the best of the worst. …the bottom of the pool.” It seems unlikely that he would guide the agency to protect these vulnerable workers, and to help them know their rights and stand up to abusive employers.

Workers, if they are informed, empowered, and unafraid, know that they can turn to the Department of Labor for help. It is the line of the law between employers and workers. When a poultry worker in Texas lost a finger because of unsafe conditions, OSHA, part of the Department of Labor, investigated. When workers at Hardee’s restaurants are compelled to work for extra hours without compensation, they turn to the Department of Labor’s wage and hour division.

If that line is NOT there, workers often have nowhere else to turn. Companies who care more about profits than people have free rein to cut corners and squeeze workers until the bottom line returns the highest number possible.

The nomination of Puzder has been met with a chorus of voices from a variety of organizations and experts. We hope you’ll listen, and then speak out. Keep up with breaking news on www.antilaborsecretary.org. And read this excellent summary by Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project.

On February 16, Andrew Puzder will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. Please reach out to your Senators and urge them to vote No on this nomination, which has the potential to reverse progress for millions of workers.

As Oxfam noted in its letter to the HELP Committee:

As Secretary of Labor, Mr. Puzder would oversee a broad range of policies, including protecting workers from being cheated on wages, pensions, and retirement savings; preventing discrimination in hiring, firing, promotion, and pay; and setting national and international standards for people’s rights and conditions at work. For Oxfam, this boils down to whether Mr. Puzder will be a fair and committed advocate for the interests of American workers, working to promote equality and high standards in the workplace.

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