international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers in healthcare, public and property services.
President-elect Donald Trump has picked fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder to become the next secretary of labor. Puzder is a longtime Republican donor who has been a vocal critic of raising the minimum wage, the Fight for 15 movement, expansion of overtime pay, paid sick leave and the Affordable Care Act. Puzder is also an anti-choice activist who has been accused of domestic violence. We get response from labor leader Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents over 2 million workers.
AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Donald Trump has picked a fast-food CEO to become the next secretary of labor. Andrew Puzder is head of the company that franchises the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He’s a longtime Republican donor who’s been a vocal critic of raising the minimum wage, the Fight for 15, expansion of overtime pay, paid sick leave and the Affordable Care Act. Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized Puzder’s nomination, saying, quote, "Andrew Puzder looks down on working people. At @Hardees & @CarlsJr, he got rich squeezing front-line workers on wages, overtime & benefits," unquote. In 2012, Andrew Puzder made $4.4 million, nearly 300 times more than the average food worker. According to one count, 60 percent of restaurants in Puzder’s fast-food chain had wage violations. This is Andrew Puzder appearing on Fox Business last year, talking about the Fight or 15 campaign.
ANDREW PUZDER: If your objective is to bolster and support the unions, and you’re not all that concerned about whether young people will have entry-level jobs, then you should be protesting in favor of a $15 minimum wage. And I think most people are concerned about young people in this country, and fewer people are concerned about big labor.
AMY GOODMAN: Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder has also spoken in favor of having robots replace workers at fast-food restaurants. In an interview with Business Insider, Puzder said robots are, quote, "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." Well, Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project said, quote, "[B]ased 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."
Well, Puzder is a longtime Republican activist. In the '80s, he served as chair of then-Missouri governor and future Attorney General John Ashcroft's Task Force for Mothers and Unborn Children. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Puzder helped draft a Missouri law banning most abortions at public facilities and requiring doctors to test the viability of fetuses starting at 20 weeks. The Riverfront Times of St. Louis also reports Puzder was accused of abusing his former wife multiple times. In one incident in 1986, his former wife said Puzder, quote, "attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head, pushed his knee into my chest, twisted my arm and dragged me on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back," unquote. Puzder has also faced criticism for airing sexist TV ads showing scantily clad models dressed in bikinis and lingerie eating hamburgers from his restaurants. Last year he defended the ads, saying, quote, "I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American."
Well, to talk more about the nomination of Andrew Puzder as labor secretary, we’re joined by labor leader Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, which represents over 2 million workers.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mary Kay Henry. Your thoughts on the labor secretary designee?
MARY KAY HENRY: Thanks, Amy. It, I think, reflects how out of touch Donald Trump is with the vast majority of working people in this country. We’re dealing with the worst economic, racial and gender inequality of our time. And Andrew Puzder, as you just so clearly made the case, represents a corporate race to the bottom, that doesn’t treat the value of work and the dignity of the people doing work, even in his own restaurants.
And I have to say, when I heard that he was the nominee, it made me think about the first time the current secretary of labor, Tom Perez, welcomed the Fight for 15 and Union leadership into his office, because he wanted to hear about the lives of people that were fearless enough to actually decide to make what was such a bodacious demand four years ago for $15 and a union. And our current labor secretary, every time those leaders take action in the streets, applauds them through emails, speeches and Twitter. And we couldn’t have a more extreme contrast in labor secretaries from the current, Tom Perez, and this nomination that Donald Trump has insulted every American worker by making.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about exactly what the job of the labor secretary is and what kind of impact Andrew Puzder’s position would have.
MARY KAY HENRY: Well, the labor secretary’s mission is to stand up for American working people and oversee the administration of wage and hour division, which makes sure that when you work for a living, you get paid for the hours. Andrew Puzder’s restaurants have been fined in California alone $20 million for wage and hour violations, where somebody is cheated in their check and is able to go to the Labor Department to get—get redress for that.
The other thing the Labor Department does is encourage earning more money, raising wages in this country, which Tom Perez has done valiantly with individual employers, making the case about how, when you work hard for a living, you ought to be able to feed your family and have your kids get ahead. And he’s done that in every sector of the economy. He’s convened the labor movement. He’s convened American business owners to try and find common ground, because he knew in his bones that when workers had more money in their pockets, they could spend it in their communities, and we could get the economy growing from the bottom up in this nation. And Puzder represents exactly the opposite trickle-down theory that we know has failed.
And I think that’s the role that the labor secretary plays, and that’s why it’s completely outrageous that Donald Trump sees Puzder fit to serve in this role. Frankly, in a long line of appointments, from the Environmental Protection Agency, the attorney general, the Housing and Urban Development and Education, the people that he’s nominated to lead those departments in government, that are supposed to advance the rights and privileges in those areas, are all people that want to use government to favor corporations over the majority of Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: During an appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends last year, Andy Puzder claimed many workers don’t want higher wages, because they’re afraid of losing government benefits. This is what he said.
ANDREW PUZDER: The policy guys call it the welfare cliff, because you get to a point where if you make a few more dollars, you actually lose thousands of dollars in benefits.
STEVE DOOCY: Right.
ANDREW PUZDER: And quite honestly, these benefits are essential for some people. They’re how they pay the rent. They’re how they feed their kids.
STEVE DOOCY: Sure.
ANDREW PUZDER: So, what happens is, we have people who turn down promotions, or, if minimum wage goes up, they want fewer hours. They want less hours because they’re afraid they’ll go over that cliff—
STEVE DOOCY: Sure.
ANDREW PUZDER: —and really make the distance between dependence and independence too broad a gap.
STEVE DOOCY: And it’s got to drive you nuts, because—
ANDREW PUZDER: Yes.
STEVE DOOCY: —you’re always looking for good people to run your stores. And if they would just take the next step, take the—a next step up the ladder, next thing you know, they could be a manager making $80,000, but they don’t want to lose the free stuff from the government.
ANDREW PUZDER: Yeah, it really—it really locks people into poverty. It’s a system that does—it just is—it was well-intended, intended to relieve—to help people who need relief, but it really locks them into poverty, and we need a different system.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Andy Puzder speaking last year with Steve Doocy of Fox & Friends. Your response, Mary Kay Henry?
MARY KAY HENRY: Well, it’s another indication of how completely out of touch he is on the basic dignity of the work that people do in his restaurants. Let’s just take the case of McDonald’s. I don’t know the CKE Restaurant numbers, Amy. There’s 4,000 store managers in McDonald’s. There are a million people working in McDonald’s restaurants. There aren’t enough management jobs for people to promote into in the way that he’s suggesting. That is a smokescreen for a decision by the wealthiest corporations in this country, who are earning record profits, where CEO pay is 1,200 times the frontline workers, to divert our attention from the fact that they refuse to pay living wages, when it’s completely possible for profits to be invested on the frontline workforce and for shareholders to still get what they need and for workers to come off of tax subsidy. Every Fight for 15 leader that I’ve walked with, struck with, gotten arrested with, doesn’t want government assistance. People want to be able to work for a living and feed their families and get ahead in this economy. And it would be game-changing if Andy Puzder came into the labor secretary role, convened fast-food employers and required them to sit down and recognize the union voluntarily, with the Fight for 15 leadership. Four million people could come out of poverty through a collective bargaining agreement in this country, just like these companies have done in countries around the world. And so, for him to sit on Fox News and talk about people wanting government assistance and to live in poverty is complete baloney.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how are you going to organize? I mean, this is not a fait accompli at this point.
MARY KAY HENRY: That’s right. We are objecting, as we have done in the last 24 hours. We’re supporting the Fight for 15 and Union leadership, who have also gone into the streets objecting. We’re galvanizing across the progressive movement to unite in our objection, not just to the labor secretary, but all of the Cabinet appointments that are completely antithetical to the country that we want to live in. And we are going to mobilize for the nominations process to not allow for these appointments to occur.
And beyond that, Amy, we think we need to expand the Fight for 15 and a Union movement, have more workers join. We need to connect it to electoral politics that are happening in Virginia and New Jersey this coming year, in '17, and get ready to really turn the tide in ’18. We're going to talk about how the Affordable Care Act needs to be maintained. We’re going to object to the education secretary suggesting that we should privatize public education in this country. We’re going to object to an attorney general that further wants to suppress our voice by not defending the Voting Rights Act in this country. There’s a lot for us to organize around in these times.