By Grace Aylmer
It comes as no surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is feeling “optimistic” about Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, fast food baron Andy Puzder. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains.
While we can’t say exactly when the Chamber first fell for Puzder, we can trace their meet-cute back to at least 2015, when Puzder participated in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce panel criticizing the Obama administration’s policy that would allow parent companies to be held liable for franchisee misconduct.
The Chamber’s relationship with Puzder can be defined entirely by shared interests, whether it’s fighting against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sparring with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), opposing the overtime rule, or resisting any efforts to increase the minimum wage.
Puzder has indeed stolen the Chamber’s heart, but unfortunately, that’s not the only thing he’s apparently stolen. Throughout his tenure as CEO, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants have been accused of over 1,000 wage and hour violations. A recent survey of workers at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s revealed that nearly one-third of workers reported that they were not paid overtime to which they were legally entitled.
Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Labor (DOL) was able to secure nearly $1.6 billion in back pay for over 1.7 million workers whose employers ignored wage and overtime laws. If confirmed, what guarantees do we have that Puzder would continue this important work given CKE’s checkered past in this domain? What’s more, Puzder would almost certainly oppose the implementation of the overtime rule which would make millions of Americans newly eligible for overtime pay. He argues that what workers lose in wages by being exempted from overtime, they “gain in stature and sense of accomplishment.” Of course, the thousands of poorly paid workers at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s might disagree with Puzder’s platitudes. In any event, the Chamber and its beau are on the same wavelength when it comes to overtime. The Chamber has led the fight against the overtime rule, including by filing a lawsuit in Texas to challenge the rule’s implementation.
If Puzder and the Chamber are on the same wavelength when it comes to overtime, it’s a mind meld when it comes to the minimum wage. In a report published by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, employees of Puzder’s fast-food chains share their stories of being paid barely livable wages. Even more damning, Puzder has stated that, “[s]ome jobs don’t produce enough economic value to bear the increase [to the minimum wage].” Just like its main man, the Chamber also refuses to acknowledge that an increase in the shamefully low minimum wage is not only good for workers, but good for businesses too and has vowed to oppose any significant increase as part of its 2017 priorities.
Puzder’s record as CEO of CKE Restaurants has been defined by a shocking number of alleged violations, both in the aforementioned wage and hour theft, but also in safety protections for employees. Unfortunately, these are the very worker protections he would be charged with enforcing if confirmed. Under his leadership, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants racked up numerous alleged OSHA violations, including employees requiring hospitalization because of serious burns. If confirmed, Puzder, whose actions seem to indicate that he opposes the DOL core functions of regulating and enforcing workplace health and safety, could roll back important safety protections for workers.
As if these serious safety violations weren’t bad enough, CKE Restaurants was also accused of stopping contributions to the 401(k) retirement plans of 130 employees at its corporate headquarters, and a shockingly high percentage of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s workers reported experiencing sexual harassment and discrimination on the job. Not surprisingly, eliminating workplace protections (even those as simple as a notice of their employees’ rights, protection from retaliation, and job safety) are included in the Chamber’s efforts to push so-called “right to work” laws in the states and we don’t doubt that it would enjoy having a Labor secretary who is similarly opposed to worker protections.
Perhaps most shockingly of all, Puzder has been quoted saying that he would like to replace his employees with robots, as machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there is never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.” As if these two weren’t already nuts (and bolts) about each other, it looks like the Chamber may be able to help with this too!
Both Puzder and the Chamber have voiced ardent opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which, if repealed, would leave nearly 30 million Americans without health insurance coverage. The Chamber has worked tirelessly to undermine efforts to expand access to healthcare and to reduce industry profiteering. From spending $86 million to oppose the ACA in 2009 to undermining the funding sources of the law in 2014, the Chamber consistently sides with health insurers and Big Pharma against providing quality affordable health care for average Americans. Puzder, echoing the Chamber, claimed that “Obamacare is the craziest thing in the world and does not make sense.” What really doesn’t make sense is that Puzder, who opposes mandatory sick leave policies for workers and wants to abolish the Affordable Care Act, apparently enjoyed huge reimbursement checks from his company for medical and dental costs. According to a report by the Restaurant Opportunity Centers, in just one year, Puzder’s reimbursements totaled $61,000; in contrast, only 9 percent of CKE non-managerial staff have access to health-care through their employer. This begs the question, does hypocrisy count as a pre-existing condition?
The Labor Department was created “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” It appears that with help from Big Business, the anti-Labor secretary will do just the opposite.
So there we have it, a modern day robber baron bromance rooted in destroying worker protections, preventing employees from accessing healthcare, and wage theft. As a millennial might say, the Chamber would swipe right on Puzder faster than you can say, “Fight for 15!”