On Dec. 8, Donald Trump announced that he intends to nominate fast-food CEO Andy Puzder as secretary of labor. As head of CKE Restaurant Holdings—parent company of Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr. and other fast-food chains—Puzder has been a tireless advocate against workers, arguing for lower wages, lower safety standards, and even fewer jobs.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s stated mission is 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.” Puzder’s record over the last 25 years shows Trump intends to turn this mission on its head.
Trump’s announcement praised Puzder for a “record fighting for workers” and said “Andy will fight to make American workers safer and more prosperous by enforcing fair occupational safety standards and ensuring workers receive the benefits they deserve.” These are complete lies.
No friend of workers
Puzder, who makes about 300 times more than his average employee, has been a staunch advocate against the nationwide movement to raise the federal minimum wage to $15—currently at $7.25—and also opposes expanding overtime protections and paid sick leave. He has mused that fast-food restaurants could be fully automated, saying he would like to run a restaurant where “you order on a kiosk, you pay with a credit or debit card, your order pops up, and you never see a person.”
CKE Holdings has also faced numerous labor violations since Puzder became CEO in 2000. The long list of violations includes: wage theft at more than half of the 3,600 Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations nationwide, not providing required breaks, having some employees work “on call” for 24 hours straight, and failing to provide sufficient safety gear that led to workers suffering severe burns. This frequent violator of labor laws will now lead the federal department responsible for enforcing them.
Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.—the latter best known for the criticism it received for sexist commercials featuring women in bikinis eating hamburgers on car hoods—has faced charges of fostering a work environment where sexual harassment was permitted. Puzder applauded the company’s sexist advertising, saying: “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.”
Trump’s appointment of a fast-food CEO as secretary of labor can also be seen as an attack on the movement to unionize low-wage workers, the vast majority of whom currently do not have representation. This, combined with a likely anti-union Supreme Court nominee and Congress, the Senate, and many state legislatures in the hands of Republicans, portend increased efforts by corporations to push a variety of anti-union laws and court cases.
While Trump’s campaign rhetoric—such as appealing to workers devastated by neoliberal trade deals—led union members to support him at higher levels than either of Barack Obama’s opponents, the façade that he will support workers is being undone. On top of Trump appointing three Goldman Sachs executives to his cabinet, Puzder will assuredly use the labor secretary position to further the interests of banks and corporations at the expense of workers.
The way forward
While the dangers for the labor movement will be clear and present under Trump and Puzder, the fast-food workers’ struggle provides useful perspective and inspiration for the way forward. At its outset, the fight for a $15 minimum wage was far beyond the scope of any Democratic Party proposal, such as Obama’s attempt to gradually raise the minimum to $10.10. But strikes that started at a handful of stores in 2012 soon spread to thousands of stores nationwide. Soon cities began passing $15 minimum wage laws and California and New York became the first states to do so in 2016. The struggle for fair pay will continue, and as the fast food-workers have shown it is the struggle that will make the difference.