Trump Names Fast Food CEO as Labor Secretary

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Republican President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Andrew Puzder, a multimillionaire fast-food executive, foe of raising the minimum wage and an opponent of expanding eligibility for overtime pay, as Secretary of Labor.

Oh, and Puzder can’t stand the Affordable Care Act, either.

Puzder, 66, is a St. Louis native whose California-based company, CKE Restaurants, owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains. Puzder’s in the process of moving CKE’s headquarters to a right-to-work-for-less state, Tennessee. His nomination drew immediate flak and “his track record inspires deep skepticism,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

The New York-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union called Puzder’s stand on the minimum wage – the exec says it should be no more than $9 an hour, up from the decade-old level of $7.25 – “shameful.”

“If you’re making labor more expensive,” Puzder told Business Insider in May, retailers and fast-food restaurants would automate. “This is not rocket science,” he added.

That Puzder comment prompted New York City’s Democratic Mayor Bill deBlasio to tweet a retort on Dec. 8 that “America’s workers deserve a raise and a union, not a Labor Secretary who thinks they’re paid too much and wants to replace them with robots.”

Puzder also told senators early in 2015 the average retail worker in his firm’s 2,920 U.S. restaurants, not counting managers, earns $9.28 hourly. All but 800 restaurants are franchises.

Two-thirds of the 20,000 workers at directly owned Hardees work fewer than 30 hours weekly.

Forty percent of Puzder’s fast food restaurants “had at least one wage and hour law violation,” retired New York Times labor writer Steve Greenhouse tweeted. And video ads for Puzder’s Carl’s Jr. chain feature what Puzder lauds as “bikini-clad women eating burgers.”

"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.

Despite Puzder and Trump, she said, workers “will not back down, we will stay in the streets to fight back against anti-worker extremism and we will not stop until all work is valued and every community in America has the opportunity to thrive."

And 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.   

Other federal laws and rules Puzder opposes include:

The Affordable Care Act. Puzder testified in January 2015 for a Republican-pushed bill that would set a minimum 40-hour workweek for any worker to be deemed “full time” and thus covered by the ACA. The ACA now has a 30-hour weekly minimum, so that firms – such as fast food restaurants – who don’t employ their workers for a full week nonetheless must ensure they’re covered.

“Because the ACA requires employers either offer health insurance to their employees who work 30 or more hours per week or pay up to a $3,000 per employee penalty, it has had the unintended consequence of encouraging employers to convert full time jobs to part time jobs -- more particularly, jobs where employees work less than 30 hours a week,” he testified.

Overtime pay. Puzder wrote a May op-ed in Forbes opposing the Obama Labor Department’s expansion of overtime pay eligibility. DOL planned to narrow the definition of which “executive, administrative and professional” workers are exempt for overtime pay, while doubling the figure beyond which other workers are exempt, to more than $47,000.

The overtime pay rule, Puzder wrote, would “add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama administration has imposed on employers.” He claimed it would lead employers to cut hours and job opportunities.

The rule is currently on hold, due to a nationwide injunction issued – at the demand of business lobbies and right-wing run states – against it by a federal district judge in rural Texas, a deep red state. It had been scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1.

The same day Trump named Puzder, the National Association of Manufacturers met with Vice-president-elect Mike Pence. Pence asked for NAM’s priorities on “which regulations should be reviewed for possible repeal.”

The Center for Responsive Politics reported Puzder donated slightly more than $400,000 to various Republican candidates and campaign finance committees, with more than half to party campaign finance arms. He gave $5,400 to Trump, those records show. But the Federal Election Commission says that bundling much of Puzder’s money to the GOP committees allowed them to split it with the Trump campaign.


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