co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC United.
A recent survey by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has found a shocking two-thirds of women working at labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder’s restaurants experience sexual harassment at work. The report comes as Puzder is facing questions about past allegations of domestic violence against his ex-wife. For more, we speak with Saru Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC United.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about his other activities. He’s not only a businessman, as you say, a leader of the Restaurant Association, but he’s also very active in other conservative Republican issues. Are you aware or knowledgeable about some of those?
SARU JAYARAMAN: Yes. I mean, he’s been very ideological on issues of choice and, you know, all kinds of issues pertaining to women. He has actually supported mostly Republican, but some Democrats, as well, on these issues, and, through the National Restaurant Association, has spent millions of dollars to prevent the minimum wage from going up and other worker protections, has fought against healthcare reform, against policies like paid sick days. So this is a man who, you know, paid like $700,000 towards the Trump campaign, a very ideological Republican capitalist that really—you have to understand, with Andy Puzder going into the head of the Department of Labor, that’s essentially giving this trade lobby, that has been lobbying really since slavery times to keep wages as low as possible, if not—you know, or not have them at all—you’re essentially giving the National Restaurant Association a seat in the Cabinet and the complete control over the very department that is supposed to be looking out for the welfare of workers.
AMY GOODMAN: During an appearance on Fox News’s Fox & Friends in 2015, Andy Puzder claimed many workers don’t want higher wages, because they’re afraid of losing government benefits. This is Puzder speaking to Steve Doocy on Fox.
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: So, that is Andrew Puzder on Fox & Friends with Steve Doocy. Saru Jayaraman, your response?
SARU JAYARAMAN: The amazing thing about these comments is that they are essentially admitting that they, as not just CKE, but as an industry, are relying on taxpayer dollars for the survival of their workers. The kinds of benefits they’re talking about are food stamps, Medicaid, all kinds of public assistance that these workers rely on because their wages are absurdly low. And the real solution is not to find a way to allow these workers to continue to rely on these taxpayer-funded benefits, but to pay them enough that they can actually survive without benefits, which is what most of these workers want. In fact, the taxpayer pays $16.5 billion on taxpayer-funded benefits just for this one industry alone. And so, it’s important to realize that the National Restaurant Association argues both to keep the minimum wage as low as possible, and argues against raising the minimum wage because these workers need benefits, which they are essentially relying on to subsidize their workers’ wages and survival. It’s an unsustainable business model, and the real solution is to raise the wage to the point where the workers don’t have to rely on benefits at all.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, it’s unsustainable for everyone but the corporate executives, right?
SARU JAYARAMAN: That’s right. That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Because Puzder made about $4.4 million in 2012?
SARU JAYARAMAN: In some years, it’s estimated he’s made as much as $10 million. If you look at the reimbursements he’s received for his own medical expenses, they’re pretty extraordinary. They’re larger than some workers’ wages in a whole year, just for his medical reimbursements. So, it’s incredibly hypocritical.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about this new controversy that’s come out, Andy Puzder facing increasing criticism over his admission that he hired an undocumented housekeeper. Puzder says he and his wife employed an undocumented housekeeper for a number of years, then fired her after learning she didn’t have U.S. work documents. And in the midst of, you know, him being considered for secretary of labor is when he fired her. He also says they provided her help in obtaining U.S. documentation. Puzder is the second of Trump’s Cabinet nominees who has acknowledged hiring an undocumented worker. The first was commerce secretary nominee billionaire Wilbur Ross. Similar practices have led to the rejection of past Cabinet nominees, like two of President Clinton’s nominees for attorney general, Zoë Baird and Kimba Wood, in 1993. Saru, your response, for his hiring of the undocumented housekeeper and what happened next in this issue across, whoever does this?
SARU JAYARAMAN: I think the key question is: If this man didn’t know that his domestic worker was undocumented, then why didn’t he pay taxes for her employment from the first place? Why did he, when he said he learned about her status, then go say he went back and paid back taxes? The truth is that this man employs millions of undocumented workers. The industry employs millions of undocumented workers. The industry relies on immigrants, both undocumented and documented. The National Restaurant Association has said many, many times that the industry would collapse without these workers.
The real question is: Under what conditions do these workers survive and work in this country? The administration, in the same breath as bringing on this man, who has now said he definitely had an undocumented domestic worker and has many more in his company—in the same breath, is, you know, saying that they’re going to get rid of millions of undocumented workers. You know, when you put the National Restaurant Association, which has said so many times that its industry would collapse without these workers, in charge of a Cabinet position, you know that they don’t really actually want to get rid of these workers. They want to create a climate of fear, in which workers, like robots, won’t speak up, won’t complain about anything at all. That’s really what’s going on here. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic kind of policy, in which you have one man in charge of workers, who has hired undocumented workers and says he prefers robots, and on the other hand, the administration is going out, engaging in raids, talking about immigration enforcement, when in fact we all know that these CEOs absolutely depend on these workers, not just as domestic workers, but in their companies, to do the work to make the millions that they want to make.
AMY GOODMAN: And the accusation against Puzder of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, who even went on Oprah in disguise to speak about his domestic violence? In a 1988 petition, the ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein said Puzder had, quote, "assaulted and battered [her] by striking her violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders, and neck, without provocation or cause," and that, as a consequence, she suffered severe and permanent injuries. His ex-wife would later withdraw the allegations as part of a 1990 child custody agreement. But, Saru, how does this fit in?
SARU JAYARAMAN: You know, I won’t comment to what happened to his wife, since she withdrew her charges. I will say it’s important to keep that in mind as you look at the ads. You’ve seen these ads of Carl’s Jr. restaurants in which they have nearly naked women holding up burgers in front of their breasts or lying on the floor eating a burger or feeding burgers to each other in naked positions. And then you look at the data from our report and other reports showing that young women, often very young women, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old girls, were harassed, grabbed, assaulted in various ways, as I said, told by customers, "Why aren’t you dressed like the girls in the ads?"
Clearly, this is a man who doesn’t respect women at all, is fine with women being degraded in his ads, and has said, "Well, ugly women don’t sell burgers," and then is also fine with young women being assaulted in his restaurants when they’re trying to do their job. I mean, two-thirds of women in our survey said that they had been sexually harassed in various ways. That’s 1.5 times the rate of the rest of the industry, which already, by the way, has five times the rate of sexual harassment of the entire rest of the economy. So you’re talking about the worst sexual violator of any company in an industry that’s already the worst sexual harasser of any industry. And this is the man who’s in charge of the welfare of women workers in our country. It’s horrific.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Saru, while we have you on, as an organizer of the restaurant—as an organizer of ROC, I wanted to ask you about these raids across the country, over 600 people. In a moment, we’re going to speak to the Senate president in California. The effect on working people in Carl’s, in Hardee’s, all over the country, and beyond, of course, what this has meant?
SARU JAYARAMAN: Yeah, this industry, as I said, is the largest employer of undocumented workers, of immigrants of all different kinds and Muslim immigrants. And what we are seeing is that these raids, these actions, are really meant to strike fear in the heart of workers, to keep them from speaking up, to keep them from doing anything that would expose themselves or make themselves a target. And what we need to do as a nation, as an industry, is stand up. Many of our employers have come forward and formed something called sanctuary restaurants, not saying that they’re going to harbor undocumented immigrants, but really saying they’re going to stand by their workers of all identities. And we, as workers, just need to continue to resist, because we can’t allow them to think that we’re going to roll over and be afraid when they engage in these kinds of actions, which is precisely their point. So, actually, on March 8th, International Women’s Day, we are calling for a national action on the Department of Labor. We will be gathering in front of the Department of Labor with thousands of women workers from across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Saru, we want to thank you for being with us, Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. And we want to thank Maggie Guerrero, the former Carl’s Jr. employee, for joining us from California. And when we come back, we’re going to California, to Sacramento, the state capital, to talk with the Senate president, to talk with Kevin de León, about his proposal for a sanctuary state and what is happening with these raids, many of the raids in this past week taking place in California. Stay with us.