President Trump campaigned on promises of higher wages and better jobs, but he has betrayed those promises with his nomination of fast-food chain CEO Andrew Puzder for secretary of the Department of Labor.
The Department of Labor exists, according to its own mission statement "to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights." It is an entity charged with enforcing our basic workplace laws, like minimum wage and overtime requirements and laws that protect worker health and safety. Yet instead of choosing a champion of workers, Mr. Trump chose a millionaire contemptuous of the very department he has been tapped to lead.
Mr. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's fast-food chains. He has demonstrated outright hostility to workers, including those at his own business. He would like to replace his employees with machines to avoid having to provide benefits because machines are "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."
Consistent with his disdain for workers struggling to make ends meet, Mr. Puzder opposes meaningful increases in the minimum wage and similar laws that would make workplaces more humane, including rest breaks and earned sick leave. Mr. Puzder even opposed an action the Obama administration took to give some salaried workers a raise — a rule expanding overtime protections for those with relatively low salaries. In Maryland alone, as many as 233,000 salaried workers may well lose out on this raise if the new overtime regulations are repealed under a Puzder Labor Department. Like a fox guarding the henhouse, Mr. Puzder will no doubt seek to dismantle the already inadequate protections that working people count on to get a fair shake.
Mr. Puzder's contempt for the common worker is consistent with his willingness to flout laws designed to protect them — particularly the bedrock wage laws that the Labor Department is charged with enforcing. As CEO, Mr. Puzder grew CKE by paying low wages and cutting corners, failing to fairly compensate the people who work for him. The Department of Labor has investigated Mr. Puzder's restaurants many times over his 16 years as CEO. And in 60 percent of the investigations since 2009, CKE restaurants and franchises were found to have violated wage and hour laws. Mr. Puzder even complained that his company was forced to pay $20 million for overtime lawsuits filed by California employees. And his track record on health and safety is no better; violations were found in 57 percent of the health and safety complaints lodged against Mr. Puzder's fast food chains. Working people can't trust Mr. Puzder to look out for them in enforcing labor laws when he does not respect and abide by the rules himself.
As Maryland advocates for workers, we complement the important work of the Department of Labor. The Public Justice Center represents low-wage workers, much like Mr. Puzder's employees, who have had their wages stolen by employers who fail or refuse to pay minimum wage or overtime, who misclassify their workers and who try to use immigration threats and/or race discrimination as a tool to silence their workforce.
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. advocates to protect and expand the rights of migrant workers, many of whom are recruited by foreign labor brokers and exploited with impunity under the Department of Labor's guest worker programs that render them virtually powerless to complain. We know firsthand that sustained enforcement by both the government and private sectors is necessary to a culture of compliance with our basic workplace laws. Unfortunately, Mr. Puzder's track record shows that he would not even try to create a culture of compliance and is wholly unsuited to lead the Department of Labor.
The United States Department of Labor is critically important to Maryland's workforce, and its secretary has the tremendous responsibility of advancing its mission. We must demand that the person charged with that awesome responsibility is passionate about improving working conditions and promoting the welfare of working families. Mr. Puzder, a corporate CEO with a disdain for his own employees and the workplace laws that protect them, is not that person. Regardless of party affiliation or voting history, Marylanders should ask Congress to reject the confirmation of Andrew Puzder for secretary of the Department of Labor.
Sally Dworak-Fisher is an attorney with the Workplace Justice Project within the Public Justice Center, Inc. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rachel-Micah Jones is executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante; her email is email@example.com.