February 18, 2017
On February 15, Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, withdrew his nomination, one day before his rescheduled nomination hearing. Puzder’s withdrawal follows a massive mobilization of opposition across sectors of the labor movement, as labor experts and advocates openly questioned Puzder’s fitness for the position. On February 9, 128 worker and advocacy groups, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Jobs with Justice, United Steelworkers, and NAACP, sent a letter to President Trump insisting that he withdraw Puzder’s nomination and “find a suitable nominee who shows proper respect for working people and our nation’s employment laws.” The National Employment Law Project developed a campaign opposing Puzder’s nomination, and other labor groups helped organize the resistance against Puzder’s nomination.
Once Puzder’s withdrawal was announced, union leaders and worker advocates spoke out, praising the mobilization effort against Puzder and the power of the labor movement.
Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, stated: “Working people rejected Puzder because he routinely violated labor law, disrespected workers, opposed a living wage and used his position of authority to enrich himself at the expense of working people. We rallied in towns and cities across the country, flooded Senate offices with calls and e-mails and highlighted Puzder’s terrible track record. The American people want a Labor Secretary who will hold employers accountable for paying a fair wage and providing a safe workplace while ensuring our right to a voice on the job.”
Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice, remarked: “We made history, and we’re going to keep fighting against policies and politicians who don’t have our interests at heart. We’re hailing this victory but our work isn’t over. We will continue to hold the line that a Labor Secretary must be a champion of working people.”
As workers and labor advocates celebrate their successful mobilization and Puzder’s withdrawal, some may be questioning why there was so much resistance towards Puzder in the first place. While there has been no shortage of controversy over many of President Trump’s cabinet appointments, many labor leaders viewed Puzder’s nomination as a threat to workers. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of fast food franchises such as Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. While any connection between the fast food industry, known for low wages and questionable working conditions, and the Secretary of Labor would raise concerns, Puzder’s record with CKE and his positions on key labor issues had labor advocates deeply concerned about Puzder’s future with the Department of Labor.
The letter from labor groups to President Trump followed news released earlier in the week that Puzder had employed a housekeeper for many years without paying taxes on her wages. Puzder only paid the legally required taxes once he learned that he would be nominated for Secretary of Labor.
As head of the Department of Labor, Puzder’s job would have involved enforcing the federal labor laws that he has previously failed to comply with, both in his personal and professional roles. His company, CKE, has been found in violation of numerous labor regulations, including the wage and hour laws carried out by the Department of Labor. An analysis of franchise restaurants found that of the Labor Department’s investigations of CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s establishments since 2009, 60% resulted in at least one violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
If he had been approved as Secretary of Labor, Puzder would be the head a department with the mission, “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.” Many have pointed to Puzder’s previous statements and acts as indicators that he would not be able to uphold this mission. Labor leaders also expressed concern over a number of Puzder’s stances on workers’ issues and his problematic history with CKE. Below are statements and insights into what union leaders, labor lawyers, and worker groups think about Puzder’s history with workers and his nomination.
Astar Herndon, Wisconsin Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, commented: “Puzder has made demeaning comments about women, and his company has a record of sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints. Two-thirds of female survey respondents from Puzder’s restaurants said they experienced sexual harassment at work, higher than the industry average. Puzder’s reckless and cavalier attitude toward the serious issues facing American workers should disqualify him from consideration as secretary of labor.”
Jeffrey Grabelsky, Associate Director of the Worker Institute at Cornell: “[Puzder’s] company’s success is based on paying workers low wages and cutting corners at their expense and often in violation of the law. At a time when we need to promote policies to reverse the long-term trend of wage stagnation and reduce growing economic inequality, Andrew Puzder’s continual opposition to meaningful increases in the minimum wage is problematic.”
Leo Gerard, President of United Steelworkers: "It's mind-numbing that a guy [who] is going to be secretary of Labor said he'd like to be able to replace his workers with robots because they don't take a break and they don't need a rest…[Puzder’s] directly different from what President Trump has been saying."
Gerard is referring to a statement made by Puzder in March of 2016, when he told a reporter that 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.” These labor advocates and experts are just several of the many that have spoken out against Puzder’s nomination, and are now looking forward to the nomination of a new Secretary of Labor. However, as the resistance effort against Puzder has made clear, workers and labor leaders are more than willing to speak up and mobilize to ensure that the next Secretary of Labor will work to fulfill the Department of Labor’s mission and protect workers and their interests.