All of the doubts about how serious Donald Trump was about his populist appeals to U.S. workers have been confirmed by the selection of Andrew Puzder to be Secretary of Labor. Puzder is a prime example of the Trump administration’s pattern of appointing people directly opposed to the missions of their departments to cabinet positions. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast food chains, has been one of the most vocal opponents of workers’ rights throughout the Obama Administration. The avid fan of Ayn Rand has opposed paid sick leave requirements, the Affordable Care Act, and, in response to calls to raise the minimum wage, has advocated for replacing fast-food workers with machines. While he has little public record regarding education, his many public stances show us he will have as little sympathy for our concerns as he does for those working in the restaurant industry.
One issue we have specifically faced on which he does have a public record is that of overtime compensation. The Obama administration raised the overtime cap for salaried employees (which sets the legal minimum a salaried employee must be paid to be exempt from overtime rules) last year from $23,660 to $47,500 per year, a change that was set to result in raises for a significant portion of our non-tenure-track members, Puzder was a vocal opponent. He argued that a lack of overtime pay fosters “an increased sense of ownership [that leads managers to] stay until the job gets done, to run the business like they own it.” Texas courts halted the increase of the overtime cap shortly after its implementation, and with Trump in the White House and Puzder leading the Department of Labor any chance of raising the overtime cap is most likely now gone.
Puzder’s Labor Department is also unlikely to put much effort into preventing workplace harassment. His restaurant chains are famous for their sleazy advertisements featuring scantily clad models eating burgers, and Puzder himself has been dogged by allegations that he abused his ex-wife. When asked about the ads, Puzder has said “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” As far as he is concerned, they reflect his own personal influence, 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.” More concretely, over the last 15 years CKE Restaurants has faced the most racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits of any major hamburger chain (making $1 billion or more in annual sales). If such behavior is another result of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. taking “on the personality of the CEO” we cannot expect Puzder’s Labor Department to show any sympathy for workers facing discrimination and harassment.
It is difficult to think of a worse choice to be Secretary of Labor than Andrew Puzder. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten perhaps summed it up best, saying of him, “After a long campaign of promising to return prosperity and good jobs to struggling families, this pick makes it clear that Trump won’t drain the swamp—he’ll fill it with worse and worse kinds of slime.” There is room for optimism, though, as rumors have spread over the past week that Puzder may be considering withdrawing from consideration for the nomination. Even if he does withdraw, though, the fact that Trump nominated him in the first place proves that we can only expect hostility from the federal government over the next four years. Our strength and unity will be more vital than ever to ensure that our working, teaching, and research conditions are protected and our rights in the workplace upheld.
Noam Scheiber “Trump’s Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases” New York Times, December 8, 2016
Robin Urevich “Civil Rights Suits Plague Corporation Run by Labor Pick Andrew Puzder” Newsweek, January 23, 2017
Ryan Sutton “Trump Tapped a Fast-Food CEO for Labor Secretary. That Could Be Disastrous for Restaurant Workers” Eater, December 8, 2016
David Moberg “Trump’s Pick for Labor Secretary Is Literally the Worst” In These Times, December 14, 2016