Workers’ rights advocates say President-elect Donald Trump’s likely appointment of Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labour could be a major setback in the fight for higher wages and greater protections for the nation’s most vulnerable workers.
“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,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.
Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. The International Franchise Association praised Puzder Thursday, calling his potential appointment an “exceptional choice.”
But others say that Puzder’s past remarks and business record are worrisome.
“He opposes raising the minimum wage, threatens to replace restaurant workers with machines, has consistently opposed long-standing rules that protect workers and law-abiding employers, and demonstrated that he prizes corporate welfare and profits over workers’ well-being,” Owens said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticised Puzder in a tweet Thursday that referenced comments Puzder has made about worker pay and the automation of jobs.
America’s workers deserve a raise and a union, not a Labour Sec. who thinks they’re paid too much and wants to replace them with robots.
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) December 8, 2016
A representative for Puzder could not immediately be reached for comment.
In an interview with Business Insider in March, Puzder spoke about the potential benefits of swapping fast-food workers for machines in the face of rising wages.
“They’re 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,” Puzder said of machines like kiosks, which can take orders and accept payments from customers.
And while Puzder told CNBC in May that increasing minimum wage to $9 per hour would have a “minimal impact” on companies’ bottom lines, the CEO has a history of opposing laws that would raise workers’ pay.
“[H]ere’s what middle-class business owners, who live in the real world, will do when faced with a 40% increase in labour costs. They will cut jobs and rely more on technology,” Puzder wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2014. “Almost every restaurant chain in the country from Applebee’s to McDonald’s is testing or already implementing automated ordering with tablets or kiosks.”
Puzder made over $1 million in salary in 2012, according to a filing cited by The New York Times.
Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro was critical of Trump for choosing Puzder.
“As a CEO, Mr. Puzder has an extensive record of engaging in marketing tactics that degrade women, fighting against paying workers their hard earned overtime, opposing expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and even allegedly failing to pay some of his workers,” Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said in a statement. “It should come as no surprise then that President-elect Trump has chosen Mr. Puzder as the nation’s top labour official.”
Some have also taken issue with Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s marketing under Puzder’s leadership. Carl’s Jr. is known for its racy ads starring bikini-clad women.
“His nomination will betray American workers, especially women and people of colour,” Vicki Shabo, the vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a call with press on Thursday. “He’s objectified and undermined women in an effort to sell hamburgers.”
Puzder has defended the ads by saying that targeting “hungry, young guys” with sexual commercials works.
“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” he told Entrepreneur in 2015. “I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”
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