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NELP Raises Serious Concerns Over Fast-Food CEO’s Nomination for Labor Secretary

Following is a statement from Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project, in response to the nomination of Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, for U.S. secretary of labor: 

“The National Employment Law Project has serious concerns about the nomination of fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder for the crucial post of U.S. secretary of labor. The labor secretary serves as the chief advocate and protector of our nation’s workforce. But based on Mr. Puzder’s own comments, it’s hard to think of anyone less suited for the job of lifting up America’s forgotten workers—as Trump had campaigned on—than Puzder: He opposes raising the minimum wage, threatens to replace restaurant workers with machines, has consistently opposed long-standing rules that protect workers and law-abiding employers, and demonstrated that he prizes corporate welfare and profits over workers’ well-being.

“This much is clear: Puzder will be there for his low-wage-industry CEO buddies, who are now salivating over the prospect of rolling back the Obama administration’s efforts to raise pay for low-wage workers, improve workplace safety, and increase corporate accountability for wage theft and other violations.

“Puzder’s got his fellow CEOs’ backs, even if it breaks the backs of those at the bottom.

“By federal statute, the purpose of the Labor Department is ‘to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.’ The person holding the position of labor secretary has tremendous responsibility to improve the lives of America’s workers, requiring its occupant to push for and implement policies that will continue to turn the tide against decades of declining wages and rising income inequality. Given that mission, this nomination is a sucker-punch in the gut to all the men and women of good faith who believe in the mission of the U.S. Labor Department.

“The job of the labor secretary is NOT to strengthen the power of corporations to reap record profits by squeezing every last drop out of their low-wage workforce—and threatening to replace them with machines if they ask for wages they can support their families on. While Mr. Puzder’s qualifications may fit the bill for the latter, those qualifications are anathema to what a secretary of labor should stand for.

“Puzder opposes any meaningful increase in the minimum wage. He’s quick to blame the government for workers’ woes, despite the fact that, by his own admission, he and other restaurant industry leaders are the very people deciding to invest in automation: ‘[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,’ he told Business Insider.

“Last year, Puzder made more in one day ($17,192) than a minimum wage worker makes in a year, yet he doesn’t hesitate to preach that money’s not everything to workers struggling to put food on the table. Railing against the Obama administration’s updated overtime rules, Puzder opined in The Wall Street Journal that the ‘stature’ and ‘sense of accomplishment’ that workers derive from being labeled a manager should more than make up for the lost income from being denied overtime pay. (Meanwhile, Puzder’s company, CKE Restaurants, which runs the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains, has a long history of being named in class-action lawsuits alleging failure to fairly compensate fast-food outlet managers for overtime—see here, here, here, and here.)

“It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that when the current Labor Department conducted 4,000 investigations into the 20 largest fast-food brands, over half of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants had at least one wage-and-hour violation. Voters who thought a Trump administration would do right by the working class were certainly not sanctioning selection of a secretary of labor who has openly opposed so many basic measures essential to enabling workers to earn a decent living from their work and enjoy basic economic security in their jobs.

“If, on the other hand, the job of labor secretary is what we at NELP believe it should be—a position imbued with tremendous responsibility to improve the lives of America’s workers, requiring its occupant to push for and implement policies that will continue to turn the tide against decades of declining wages and rising income inequality—then this nomination should raise grave concerns for every working man and woman who’s struggling to make a better life in our nation.”

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