The President-elect’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, is CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. fast-food-chains. He easily meets Trump’s high standards on riches (although his vast corporate income remains undisclosed) in qualifying for the most wealth-laden Cabinet ever assembled in U.S. history.
Trump claims Puzder was picked because of “his extensive record of fighting for workers.” If this were remotely true in any normal sense, such news would be eagerly greeted by the majority of Americans who have experienced declining living standards under the pro-finance and anti-industrial restructuring of the last four decades, during which most Americans have seen their share of the national income fall.
Unfortunately, “fighting for workers” has acquired a perverse new meaning in the bizarro universe of Andrew Puzder and Donald Trump.
Pudzer’s “fighting for workers” has consisted of opposing efforts to shield them from the most abusive forms of under-payment and wage theft, unpaid overtime, harassment, and anti-union pressures.
A longtime disciple of the free-market deity Ayn Rand, Puzder views any intrusion on corporate prerogatives—like a higher minimum wages, paying overtime to low-paid employees labeled “managers,” providing healthcare to all workers—as forcing employers to hold down the expansion of jobs, pay, and benefits.
Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary warns that the recent Obama-established rule on overtime—now blocked by a federal court ruling—would needlessly drive up costs. Puzder, who makes more in one day than his minimum-wage workers make in a year, said the rule would force him to deny hourly workers any salaried management positions, thus making the overtime rule a “barrier to the middle class, rather than a springboard.”
Puzder has also demanded a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which he says has created a “government-mandated restaurant recession” because rising premiums have left workers with less money for dining out. In fact, as economist Dean Baker has pointed out, restaurant employment has increased by about one million jobs since the act was full implemented in 2014.
And Puzder has taken aim at programs like food stamps, meant to provide a safety net to poorly paid workers, as having “the unintended consequence of discouraging work rather than encouraging independence, self-reliance, and pride.”
Puzder is so fanatical about preventing government “interference” that he even objects to rules granting workers a thirty-minute meal break after five hours of work. Similarly, he is offended by laws requiring employers to provide paid sick days (as if the country needed more people in Pudzer’s own food service industry working while they are ill).
Puzder has objected loudly to inspections of Hardees and Carl’s Jr. restaurants that yielded fines totaling about $20 million for violations of wage and hour laws found in about 60 percent of the outlets checked by the Department of Labor, including franchise-owned establishments not directly controlled by CKE. Puzder has called for a far more pro-business regulatory policy.
Perhaps the most challenging issue for Puzder will be the drive for a higher minimum wage, which continues to enjoy broad public support.
Contrary to the myth put forth by Puzder and others on the right that the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is a “learner’s” pay for the young and childless, the average age of minimum-wage workers is actually thirty-five and more than half of minimum-wage workers toil full-time. Puzder claims to support “rational” increases in the minimum wage, as opposed to the $15 level widely seen as truly essential for a living wage.
A minimum-wage raise beyond the “rational” level would merely result in employers replacing workers with robots, Puzder says. In addition to saving money, wrote Puzder, robots have some superior qualities to humans: they are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s ever a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”
Puzder will provide Senators at confirmation hearings with no shortage of things to ask about, including his use of scantily-clad women like Paris Hilton in burger ads. (“We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” he’s said.) When he’s not speaking out against workers’ rights, Pudzer has spent a lot of time advocating some of the nation’s most extreme “life begins at conception” legislation limiting the reproductive rights of women.
Puzder also rather implausibly blasted Clinton on his website for her affinity for “globalist corporations” that would “continue taking advantage of cheap labor, lax environmental regulation, and the other benefits of unbalanced, poorly negotiated trade deals.”
This from the CEO of a corporation with 3,500 outlets in some forty countries. The restaurants in Puzder’s global realm are reaping vast profits from cheap labor and lax regulation of labor laws—which he now intends to spread more widely across the U.S. as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor.
Roger Bybee is a labor studies instructor, longtime progressive activist, and writer who edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.