Hundreds of fast-food workers plan to converge on the corporate offices of labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder and demand the fast-food mogul withdraw his nomination. Puzder is head of the company that franchises the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He 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’s Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday. The hearing has been postponed four times. For more, we speak with Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC United. The organization’s new report is titled “Secretary of Labor Violations?: The Low Road Business Model of CKE Restaurant Inc’s Andrew Puzder.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today, hundreds of fast-food workers plan to converge on the corporate offices of labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder and demand the fast-food mogul withdraw his nomination. 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, of the Fight for 15 movement, of expansion of overtime pay, and of paid sick leave and the Affordable Care Act. Puzder’s Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday. The hearing has been postponed four times previously. Last week, Puzder became the second of Trump’s Cabinet nominees to acknowledge hiring an undocumented worker. The first was commerce secretary nominee and billionaire Wilbur Ross. Similar practices have led to the rejection of past Cabinet nominees, including two of President Clinton’s nominees for attorney general in 1993.
AMY GOODMAN: The Riverfront Times in St. Louis also reports that Andrew Puzder was accused of abusing his former wife multiple times. Puzder’s ex-wife even went on Oprah decades ago in disguise to speak about the domestic violence.
Meanwhile, a recent survey by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has found a shocking two-thirds of women working at Puzder’s restaurants experience sexual harassment at work. One-third of Puzder workers said they’ve had some of their wages stolen or not received required breaks. The report also called into question the food safety standards at Puzder’s restaurants, with nearly 80 percent of Puzder workers saying they had prepared or served food while they were sick.
Well, for more, we go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Saru Jayaraman, who is co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, known as ROC United. Their new report is titled “Secretary of Labor Violations?: The Low Road Business Model of CKE Restaurant Inc’s Andrew Puzder.” And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by Maggie Guerrero, who worked as a shift leader at a Carl’s Jr. for two years.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Saru, I believe that the date has now been set for Thursday for Puzder’s confirmation hearing, put off five times. It is quite astounding. Can you talk about your concerns about the head of Carl’s and Hardee’s becoming the secretary of labor under Donald Trump?
SARU JAYARAMAN: Absolutely. First, it has to be understood that as the leader of CKE restaurant chains, Andy Puzder is not just a CEO of a fast-food company, he’s also a leader in the National Restaurant Association, a trade lobby that has essentially lobbied for almost a century to keep wages as low as inhumanely possible, including keeping wages for fast-food workers at $7.25 and tipped workers at $2.13 an hour. Today is actually our annual day of action, 2/13, to highlight the fact that the wage has been stuck at $2.13 an hour for a quarter-century. And it’s that kind of policy that the National Restaurant Association and Andy Puzder have been lobbying for successfully for the last many, many decades.
Now, in his own restaurants, Andy Puzder not only, you know, has said, “I wish I could replace these workers with robots. You know, I don’t actually believe in the minimum wage at all,” but has been found in very serious violation, not only by our report, which was pretty overwhelming, but also by the very department that he is now charged to run. The Department of Labor has found that more than half of his restaurants were in violation of basic wage and hour laws, like not paying overtime, not paying—not providing breaks, workers working off the clock and, worst of all, as you mentioned, just incredible amounts of sexual harassment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Saru, on this issue of his stance on the minimum wage and the Fight for 15, here he is, Andy Puzder, on Fox Business News in 2015.
ANDREW PUZDER: If your concern is to create entry-level jobs for young Americans, then a $15 minimum wage is something you should be protesting against. And this—Dr. Carson brought this up. Labor participation for minority youth is really very low. My friend Art Laffer and I had an article in Investor’s Business Daily on that about a year and a half ago. But even if you look at labor participation for 16-to-19-year-olds for every race, the reality is that we’ve hit four historic lows this year, and they’ve—and that goes back to when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started recording the data in 1948. So, fewer young people are working or looking for work than has been the case since 1948. 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.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Andy Puzder on Fox Business in 2015. Last year, in an interview with Business Insider, labor secretary nominee Puzder sang the praises of restaurant automation. He said—he’s quoted as saying that machines 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.” In other words, robots are completely docile workers, as far as he’s concerned.
SARU JAYARAMAN: Exploitable. I mean, the fact that—you know, when we did this survey, we did it over the holidays, the busiest time for restaurant workers, and 900 workers from his company reached out to us—it was overwhelming—over a two-week period. Five hundred and sixty-four filled out these surveys, and two-thirds of a mostly female workforce said they experienced very scary, pretty horrific sexual harassment. You’ve heard about the ads at Carl’s Jr., with nearly naked women. And young women reported in our survey being asked by customers, “Why aren’t you dressed like the women in the ads? I’ll take you anyway,” and then following them out into the parking lots, grabbing them, touching them, and workers complaining about these things, and management doing nothing at all. So, yes, if you want a robot who’s willing to be touched and not complain about it, you know, I suppose that’s the direction you want to go. But clearly, he hasn’t done that. He hasn’t automated his restaurants. He still has tens of thousands of workers in his restaurants. And they are obviously really suffering, or they wouldn’t have reached out to us in the way that they did.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this argument that with a lower minimum wage, you have a greater workforce participation rate in the country?
SARU JAYARAMAN: Yeah, what’s amazing about that is that our industry right now is actually going through the worst labor shortage in the history of our industry in every major metropolitan area, even as wages are going up. The plurality of his restaurants are in California, where wages are going up to $15, and we are experiencing in California the worst labor shortage in the history of the United States in the restaurant industry. And so, you know, the contrary is true: Jobs continue to grow in this industry at ever-increasing rates, even as wages are going up.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have a number of issues to discuss with you around the labor secretary nominee—we’ll see if that hearing actually does take place on Thursday—that also go to his personal life, his abuse of his wife and what this means. Saru Jayaraman is Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, she’s with it. And we’ll also speak with a worker from one of Carl’s Jr.’s places of work that Puzder is CEO of. Stay with us.