If Donald Trump truly cared about working Americans, as he claimed during his campaign, he never would have nominated a vocal opponent of working people, fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, for labor secretary.
Puzder on Wednesday withdrew from consideration, under increasing fire from Republicans upset about his record on immigration, from Democrats upset over his history of running a company repeatedly charged with labor violations, and from just about everyone horrified by domestic abuse accusations from an ex-wife, which gained fresh attention when Politico published a 1990 tape of the woman saying Puzder “vowed revenge” after she went public. Nearly 150 civil rights, women’s rights, labor and faith organizations had called for Trump to withdraw the nomination.
“From the very start of the nomination process, it was clear that fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder was unfit to lead the U.S. Department of Labor. Thanks to fierce opposition from a diverse group of Americans, including people deeply concerned about the treatment of workers and of women, enough senators came to the same realization, forcing Mr. Puzder’s withdrawal from the nomination,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.
“In nominating Mr. Puzder for labor secretary, President Trump chose for the department that champions workers someone whose views and values are not only antithetical to what workers want and need, but also out of step with mainstream America.”
Of all the problems with Puzder, it was his record on workers’ rights that was particularly galling.
Puzder would have overseen a department created specifically to defend workers’ rights and improve their wages and working conditions. As chief executive of CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., Puzder has always been on the other side of that mission.
His nomination revealed “the complete scorn Trump actually has for workers,” Heidi Shierholz, a policy director and economist at the progressive Economic Policy Institute, told The Huffington Post.
Puzder is a vocal opponent of raising the federal minimum wage and has been critical of laws that offer workers basic benefits like paid sick leave and rest breaks on the job.
Since the 66-year-old former lawyer took over CKE Restaurants in 2000, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s together have faced more employment discrimination lawsuits than any other major U.S. hamburger chain, according to an analysis of court filings by Capital and Main. As you can see from Capital and Main’s chart, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. had almost twice as many lawsuits as McDonald’s per $1 billion in sales.
With someone like Puzder leading the department, you would have seen years of progress on raising wages and improving benefits like paid sick leave and parental leave grind to a halt, and even roll backward, Shierholz said.
What This Says About Trump
Trump is no champion of the working class, either. Sure, he talked about the forgotten worker on the campaign trail, but he certainly wasn’t talking about the fast-food workers of Puzder’s world. Trump’s rhetoric was geared mainly to white men in America’s Rust Belt, who’ve lost ground as manufacturing jobs have shifted overseas.
These men may comprise an important voting block, but they actually make up a very small percentage of today’s working-class Americans. Only 13 percent of the working class has a job in manufacturing, according to Tamara Draut’s book, Sleeping Giant: How the new working class will transform America.
Today’s working class ― those in the labor market without college degrees ― is far more diverse than Trump would have you believe. These workers are far more likely to be running a cash register at one of Puzder’s Carl’s Jr. restaurants, or working as a health aide, or holding down a retail sales job.
This work is not getting done by teenagers. Only 30 percent of fast-food workers are teens, according to Draut’s book. And more than one third are nonwhite.
If Trump cared about this actual working class, Puzder’s name would never have come up for the job of labor secretary.
Most Americans Support Workers Rights
Puzder’s views on the minimum wage and worker benefits are largely out of step with what most working people want.
Puzder has been a vocal opponent of raising the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, even as other employers of low-paid workers ― from Walmart to Target to McDonald’s ― have raised pay. And, as states and cities have raised minimum wages without facing any of the job losses that Puzder ― who reaps millions in salary and benefits ― claims would happen if companies paid workers more.
He’s been critical of rules in California that require workers to take breaks. He’s said that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers offer health insurance to those working more than 30 hours a week is a bad idea. He opposes an expansion of a rule that would give more low-paid workers the ability to earn overtime pay.
And, more generally, he seems to view working people with disdain, calling his own employees “the best of the worst,” in 2011. “It’s kind of the bottom of the pool,” he said at a speech at Westmont College in California that year, with no apparent consideration to the idea that the best people would want to work somewhere that pays decently.
It seems, in fact, that Puzder would rather do away entirely with human workers. He’s been a proponent of replacing fast-food workers with automation or robots: “They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip and fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination suit,” he said recently.
While Puzder’s record on labor violations alone probably wouldn’t have done him in, it’s the most revelatory part of this story: Trump nominated a fox to guard the henhouse.
Puzder’s supporters had argued that he is a successful businessman and job creator, but it’s clear he’s gone about his business with very little regard for the people who’ve helped him reach the top.
There are better ways to run a business. And plenty of companies ― even in fast food ― are able to treat workers with respect and turn a profit.
The two goals don’t need to be at odds. Perhaps Trump’s next choice will understand that. If not, that person, too, can expect a lot of hostile fire.