26 Jan Why Department of Labor Pick Puzder is a Threat to Women
By Linda Meric
Working women and our families saw important gains under the leadership of the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Secretary Hilda Solis before him. While we have a lot more to do to achieve full equity and economic security, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, will only take us backwards, something none of our families can afford.
During Mr. Puzder’s 16 years as CEO of CKE Restaurants (the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl Jr’s), the company has committed numerous violations of wage and hour and safety laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL).
Mr. Puzder has attacked policies that would raise wages for women and people of color and close the gender and race pay gaps, including raising the minimum wage and extending overtime protections. Says Crystal Whetstone* from Ohio, “I work two part-time jobs. It feels like all I do is work to try to make ends meet. Those of us earning minimum wage are trapped in a cycle of poverty because we’ll never be able to save enough money to get ahead.”
Low-wage workers are least likely to have paid sick days — despite the fact that they are the ones who need them most. In a recent survey of CKE workers, 79 percent of respondents said they had served or prepared food while sick. Yet Mr. Puzder staunchly opposes measures that allow workers to earn paid sick days and paid family medical leave insurance. Says Sonya Underwood* of Atlanta, Georgia, “My father was recently diagnosed with bone cancer. I can’t afford to take unpaid time off to take care of him and try to restore his health and quality of life.”
Mr. Puzder has made demeaning comments about women and his company has a record of sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints. A 2016 poll found that 40 percent of women in the fast food industry experienced unwanted sexual behaviors on the job, and a 2014 report indicated that the restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment charges. Rachel Martinez* worked at a sandwich shop in Denver. She was sexually harassed by her manager and the owner did nothing to stop it despite her repeated requests for help. Rachel was forced to quit to get the harassment to stop. This was Rachel’s first job – and her experience still impacts her today. The sexual harassment numbers appear to be even higher at Mr. Puzder’s restaurants; two-thirds of female survey respondents said they experienced sexual harassment at work.
Mr. Puzder has also said that robots are preferable to the human workers that USDOL is charged to represent, saying, “[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.” His reckless and cavalier attitude toward the serious issues facing American workers should disqualify him from consideration as Secretary of Labor.
Under the leadership of Obama Administration Labor Secretaries, Thomas Perez and Hilda Solis, the USDOL recovered nearly $1.6 billion in owed back wages for more than 1.7 million workers across the country – important for working women and people of color who are the vast majority of workers in low-wage jobs and most vulnerable to wage theft.
Among other actions over the past 8 years, the USDOL:
- raised the minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of workers employed by businesses that contract with the federal government. Working women make up almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners.
- provided minimum wage and overtime protections for two million direct care workers, 90% of whom are women and 50% women of color.
- required contractors to provide employees with up to seven paid sick days annually. No one should have to risk a paycheck or a job to care for their own health or the health of a loved one.
The Department’s 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.” These are exactly the actions a U. S. Secretary and Department of Labor should be undertaking, continuing, and expanding. Yet, Mr. Puzder’s record shows that he’d prefer to do the opposite.
President Trump promised to fight for working people. Nominating Andrew Puzder is a betrayal of that promise. He is absolutely the wrong person for this job. His nomination should be opposed by all who care about the well-being of America’s working women and families.
* Crystal, Sonya and Rachel are member activists of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.