Trump's Labor Secretary Nominee No Friend to Workers

Andy Puzder with Trump
Andy Puzder with Donald Trump

Like many of his other Cabinet choices, Donald Trump’s reported pick for secretary of Labor is in many ways opposed to the mission of the department he’s been chosen to head.

The president-elect is expected to announce the nomination of Andy Puzder to head the Department of Labor, The Wall Street Journal and other sources report. Puzder is a fast-food executive who opposes a major increase in the minimum wage and whose company has run afoul of labor laws. He is CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, and was a donor and adviser to Trump’s campaign.  

Puzder has said businesses in the U.S. are too heavily regulated, and he opposes raising the federal minimum wage, currently at $7.25 per hour, beyond $9, the Journal reports. Democrats have called for a minimum wage as high as $15 an hour. He also opposes the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, which Trump has vowed to repeal and replace.

Carl’s Jr. restaurants have a spotty history when it comes to compliance with labor laws. Since 2009, about 60 percent of Labor Department investigations of Carl’s Jr. restaurants have turned up violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to a Bloomberg study. The law regulates wages and prohibits certain kinds of deductions from worker pay. Most of these were at restaurants owned by independent franchise holders, who pay a royalty to CKE, rather than CKE itself. “The idea that the parent company of franchise businesses has no responsibility for franchise workers is something we can definitely expect the Trump administration to champion,” writes Ed Kilgore in New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer blog.

In any case, Puzder is likely to be more supportive of management than labor. “Puzder opposes many of the policies and programs he would administer,” said a statement issued by Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America labor union. “He opposes the Department of Labor’s overtime rule and actually claimed that what workers “lose in overtime pay they gain in stature and sense of accomplishment.

“He objects to efforts to increase the minimum wage.  He thinks government support programs for low-wage workers — like those who work at his own restaurant franchises — are a disincentive to work, despite the fact that many fast food and retail workers’ wages are so low that they qualify for food stamps, public housing assistance and Medicaid. He fails to realize that it is low-wage employers — like him — who are the cause of workers living in poverty.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer told USA Today that the selection of Puzder'is "the surest sign yet that the next Cabinet will be looking out for the billionaires and special interests, instead of America’s working class." Schumer, a Democrat, will be Senate minority leader in the next session of Congress. Puzder, like other Cabinet nominees, is subject to confirmation by the Senate. 

Carl’s Jr. has been the subject of protests by gay and feminist groups, L.A. Weekly notes. Founder Carl Karcher in 1978 donated to the campaign to pass a California ballot measure known as the Briggs Initiative, which would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Its opponents, however, included conservative icon Ronald Reagan, the state’s former governor, and it was soundly rejected by voters.

In 1989 activists with the National Organization for Women protested at several Carl’s Jr. locations around Los Angeles because of Karcher’s contributions to anti-abortion groups, according to L.A. Weekly. Company officials said he made the donations as an individual, not on behalf of the company.

Karcher died in 2008, and in recent years Carl’s Jr. and CKE have steered largely clear of social issues, although some feminists are rankled by the Carl’s Jr. commercials that feature scantily clad women eating burgers dripping sauce. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” Puzder said in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine last year.

But Puzder has a record as an anti-abortion activist, and with the report of his likely nomination, allegations have surfaced that he physically abused his first wife. Lisa Henning, who divorced Puzder in 1987, filed charges against him, saying he hit her on several occasions, St. Louis's Riverfront Times reports. Puzder, who denied that he had done so, was not associated with the restaurant company at the time but “was best-known as an anti-abortion crusader who'd authored the Missouri law imposing serious restrictions on using any state funds or facilities for abortion or related services,” according to Riverfront Times. He was chair of then.-Gov. John Ashcroft's Task Force for Mothers and Unborn Children. The charges “were settled by a mutual consent decree without a judgment” against Puzder, the paper reports, citing his attorney.

As for LGBT issues, Puzder did speak up ever so slightly against discrimination when Republicans drafted their party platform last summer, The Hill reports. When Ohio delegate David Johnson, discussing the language of a nondiscrimination clause in the economic plank, said, “I hope we’re not getting this politically correct crap about transgender bathrooms,” Puzder responded, “However, we do support nondiscrimination.” As it ended up, though, the platform denounces several types of discrimination, but not discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

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