Trump’s Pick for Labor Secretary Is No Friend of Fast-Food Workers
The tragicomedy that is the Trump transition just keeps getting worse—or better, depending on whether you see it more as, well, tragedy or comedy. News reports are now confirming that the president-elect is likely to nominate Andrew Puzder as labor secretary. Puzder is CEO of the parent company of fast-food giants Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and is probably best known for steering those chains toward their increasingly outlandish, big-breasted, babelicious approach to selling outrageously oversize hamburgers.
For all the talk of Trump’s game-changing unpredictability, he’s sure proving to have a pattern. After all, he’s set to nominate a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency and an opponent of expanded health insurance coverage to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Thus, despite Trump’s supposed championing of the American working class, it comes as little surprise that he has tapped a staunch opponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to improve the lives of millions of underpaid workers to take charge of the Labor Department.
Surely at the top of a Secretary Puzder’s agenda (if he’s confirmed by Congress) would be to abandon any effort to defend President Obama’s executive order to significantly expand the eligibility for overtime pay. The order, which would have doubled the annual salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 to determine who qualifies for overtime pay after working 40 hours a week, has been subject to a legal challenge by business groups and a coalition of conservative state attorneys general; it’s up to the Labor Department to defend the order in court. Fat chance of that with Puzder, the fast-food executive who has written scathing op-eds against the overtime rule, at the helm.
Trump has flip-flopped on raising the federal minimum wage, pivoting from his position early in the primaries that wages in America are “too high” to what seemed like a halfhearted embrace of boosting the stagnant federal minimum wage to “at least $10.” Puzder has adamantly opposed any substantial minimum wage hike, calling instead for a paltry raise of less than $2 per hour. That’s far less than what many labor experts see as a livable wage, and as a tactic, it’s one that appears more designed to sap the momentum of groups such as Fight for $15 than to provide workers with a more equitable standard of living.
Within hours after the first reports appeared regarding Puzder’s likely nomination, the Fight for $15 released the following statement from two employees of Puzder’s restaurant chains: Rogelio Hernandez, a cook at a Carl’s Jr. in Santa Monica, California, and Lacretia Jones, a Hardee’s cashier in Richmond, Virginia.
“Putting one of the worst fast-food CEOs in charge of national labor policy sends a signal to workers that the Trump years are going to be about low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination,” the statement reads. “Instead of taking on the rigged economy, it seems like Trump wants to rig it up even more. Puzder is paid more in one day than we each make in one year working at his restaurant chains, and that’s the way he wants to keep it. Puzder is against unions, calls the minimum wage and overtime ‘restrictions’ and employees ‘extra cost,’ and even said he wants to fire workers like us and replace us with machines that can’t take vacations or sue their employers when they break the law.”
Futuristic visions of fast-food automation aside, Puzder would otherwise seem decidedly retrograde: He’s a 66-year-old white male multimillionaire whose veneration for a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps American fairy tale has remained stubbornly impervious to the economic reality that upward mobility in the country is declining as surely as income inequality is skyrocketing. Yet he’s been as unapologetic in his embrace of rollicking, free-market, worker-trouncing capitalism as he has of his chains’ blatantly sexist “boobs and burgers” advertising. “I like our ads,” Puzder told Entrepreneur last year, “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American. I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”
No doubt that ethos, harking back to Trump’s own “locker room talk,” appealed to the president-elect in choosing Puzder for labor secretary—as did the fast-food CEO’s loyalty. As The Washington Post reported, Puzder and his wife contributed upwards of $332,000 to get Trump elected—about 15 times the average annual salary for fast-food workers in America.