January 30, 2017
Do we really want an anti-labor Labor Secretary?
By Kati Sipp
What will life be like for working people if President Donald Trump’s labor secretary pick Andy Puzder gets confirmed? Pennsylvanians already know.
In 2013, readers of this newspaper learned about brutal labor exploitation at fast food restaurants in Harrisburg, Lemoyne, and Camp Hill–including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, work shifts that lasted up to 25 hours straight, and for some workers, overpriced company housing where eight people were packed into a single basement room.
Some of those workers were student guestworkers who came to the U.S. on J-1 visas expecting a “cultural exchange program,” but instead faced abuse and wage theft at the central Pennsylvania McDonald’s restaurants.
It wasn’t just student guestworkers facing abuse. Local Pennsylvians were being exploited and robbed of their already low wages right alongside them.
With the help of the National Guestworker Alliance, the workers fought back–and won a settlement for $205,977 in back wages and damages. This story had a happy ending, most stories of abuse of low-wage workers don’t, in and outside the fast-food industry.
Is this the model we want for the U.S. economy when so many workers are already struggling to make ends meet–starvation pay, wage theft, and exploitation at every turn? Because it’s the kind of economy we can expect if Andy Puzder becomes Secretary of Labor.
Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, a group that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains. Like those central Pennsylvania McDonald’s Puzder’s CKE restaurants and franchises are lousy with labor abuse.
Since Puzder became CEO in 2000, CKE restaurants have been caught in 91 health and safety violations, including 32 that could have led to “death or serious physical harm,” according to the Department of Labor. Since 2004 alone, investigations have turned up more than 1,000 wage and hour violations at CKE restaurants.
Amazingly, Puzder thinks CKE workers have it too easy.
He opposes any meaningful increase to the minimum wage, while squeezing tens of millions of dollars out of CKE himself–$10.1 million in 2011 alone.
He’s against paid sick days, and he thinks workers don’t deserve rest and meal breaks either.
Does this sound like a candidate who’s going to fulfill the Department of Labor’s mission to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare” of workers in the U.S., to “improve working conditions,” and to “assure work-related benefits and rights”?
Puzder doesn’t just profit from exploitation. He profits from sexism too. Puzder has celebrated the ads for Carl’s Jr. restaurants that portray women as pieces of meat. He even says that if viewers don’t find them offensive enough, he pushes his marketing team to make them worse.
When this is the tone Puzder sets as CEO, it’s no surprise that 66 percent of women at CKE restaurants report being sexually harassed, and CKE routinely faces lawsuits over sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
What about the old “job creator” line? Not Puzder. He told an interviewer his ideal employee is a robot, since “they’re 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.” His vision of a perfect restaurant?
One with no human workers at all. It’s hard not to wonder if that’s his vision of the perfect economy too.
There’s a saying that when someone tells you who they are, you should believe them. Andy Puzder has told us, and he’s shown us. If we want an economy based on exploitation, wage theft, sexism, and replacing human workers with machines at every turn, Puzder’s the perfect pick. If we want an economy where workers have a fighting chance, Puzder should be kept as far from the Department of Labor as possible.
Kati Sipp is the Managing Director of the National Guestworker Alliance in New Orleans, La.