Puzder withdrawal is a victory for American workers

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

In the face of intense pressure from workers across the country and mounting concerns from Republican lawmakers, President Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew himself from consideration this past week.

The move came on the heels of protests across America, including one this weekend in Orange County, over Puzder’s abhorrent treatment of the workers he employs as CEO of CKE Restaurants. The once O.C.-based corporation is the parent company for fast food chains Carl’s Jr., which first opened in Anaheim, and Hardee’s, among others.

As CEO, Puzder repeatedly violated worker-protection laws that as labor secretary he would have been responsible for enforcing. His puzzling nomination — like other appointees in recent weeks — appeared to place someone in charge of running an agency he would much rather destroy.

According to news reports, under Puzder’s leadership, CKE and its restaurants have been investigated numerous times by the Labor Department, which has found the chains guilty of, among other violations, refusing to pay overtime, paying a sub-minimum wage and forcing fast-food workers to clock out and sit in a parking lot when business slowed down, then clock back in when business picked up again.

Philosophically, Puzder also appeared to favor profits over the well-being of his workers. He has opposed any increases in the minimum wage, and advocated for swapping out employees for machines because machines are “always polite, they always up-sell, 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.

As labor secretary, Puzder would have been responsible for protecting women in the workplace. One factor that spooked Republican lawmakers this week was a 1980s “Oprah Winfrey Show” video that surfaced this week called “High Class Battered Women,” where Puzder’s former wife appeared in disguise and described being in fear of her husband, who she said threatened her for leaving, then took their Porsche and Mercedes-Benz and left her with nothing. (Puzder has denied the allegations, and his former wife also later downplayed her taped comments.)

For Orange County, the news of Puzder’s withdrawal carries additional symbolic weight. Puzder’s appointment would have been a sad reminder for those of us who grew up going to Carl’s Jr. of how far the multinational chain’s values have strayed from its philanthropic, community roots.

Puzder was responsible for shifting the company’s image from a mom-and-pop burger shop to the provocative purveyor of sexualized advertising, with commercials depicting nearly naked women slowly eating dripping burgers to a backdrop of suggestive music and creepy narration. Once considered a great place to work, claims of discrimination, wage theft, sexual harassment and more mounted at Carl’s Jr. after Puzder took over.

Workers across America deserve better than a bad boss at the helm of an agency that is supposed to protect them. And that’s why so many people spoke out about the damage Puzder had done in their lives, and could have done if confirmed. This week is evidence that, even in this world of “alternative facts,” the truth matters. And, when people stand together in support of fairness, we can make change.

On Thursday, the president announced a new pick for labor secretary, law school dean R. Alexander Acosta. Let’s hope that, in the weeks to come, through a transparent confirmation process, we learn that Mr. Acosta’s values align with the promises the president made on the campaign trail about protecting workers.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: February 17, 2017