Fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, President Trump's nominee for Labor Secretary, could be a very big problem for restaurant and other food-industry workers. Puzder's record of opposition to increasing the minimum wage, dispensing mandatory paid overtime, and upholding other workers' rights regulations make him a contentious choice to defend the very laws he so vociferously opposes.
Now, Puzder's confirmation hearings have been delayed—for the fourth time—while workers' and women's rights organizations continue to protest his nomination.
Puzder's hearing, was set for January 12, then January 17, then February 2—and is now scheduled to take place on February 7, according to a statement released by Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee. Alexander is the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, which must approve Puzder's nomination before it goes to the full Senate for vote.
The committee says it is still waiting for Puzder to complete his application paperwork; according to The Washington Post, Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, wrote a letter to Puzder stating that the committee wants it now—including tax statements, which, of course, is a potential sore point for a Trump nominee, given the President's repeated refusal to release his own tax returns. Nominees are not required to submit tax returns by law, but the Senate has traditionally requested these forms for some nominees.
Meanwhile, the drumbeat against Puzder's nomination seems to be gaining in force. Just today, over 100 food and agriculture organizations—said to be representing 10 million people "across the food system"—sent a letter to the Senate opposing the nomination. Signees to the letter included groups like the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Slow Food USA, and the National Family Farm Coalition. These groups say that Puzder's nomination is "rife with conflicts of interest" and his appointment would "ensure that the interests of the fast food industry—and its large meat and food industry suppliers—would prevail over the needs of hardworking people in the food system who face some of the highest rates of food insecurity due to low wages and poor working conditions."
Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and technology at Friends of the Earth, one of the groups that signed the letter, told MUNCHIES the following: "Puzder's record on working people is crystal clear. Not only has his company faced more employment discrimination violations than any other fast food chain, he is an outspoken opponent of raising the minimum wage, opposes equal pay and new rules which would make sure 12.5 million American workers get paid for the all of the hours that they work. Puzder has even argued that ten-minute meal breaks for employees working an eight-hour shift constitute an 'undue burden' on employers.
"There are many reasons to oppose Puzder's nomination. He's bad for workers, bad for the environment, bad for the food industry—but one of the more frightening aspects about Puzder's nomination is that he hates workers so much that he's willing to sell them out to an army of robots in order to advance his profits. That is not what the American people need in a Labor Secretary."
Also happening today: a mobile billboard will circle the Puzder's hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, emblazoned with the words "Puzder Abuses Women and Workers. Don't Let Him Abuse US as Labor Secretary." The billboard is the work of a group called UltraViolet, which says it is a national advocacy organization, created to fight sexism and to advance women's rights. The group will also be running online ads that promote its anti-Puzder message in Washington, DC and in Carpinteria, California areas, where the fast-food corporation Puzder runs, CKE, is based.
In a press release, UltraViolet said, "Puzder's CKE restaurants, the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr., has been accused of abusing workers past and present. In the 1980s, his former wife accused him of domestic violence multiple times in divorce proceedings. His ex-wife has also identified herself as a survivor of domestic violence." Last week, CKE employees filed 33 complaints against the corporation claiming both wage theft and sexual harassment; Puzder's wife, who appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show alleging that Puzder had abused her, has since walked away from the accusations.
Earlier this month, Puzder seemed to be having second thoughts about his nomination, given the criticism it had brought. Then, on January 16, he confirmed that he will pursue the position when he tweeted, "I am looking forward to my hearing."
This certainly has been an extended and controversial nomination process, but if Puzder is intent on bringing his message to the food world and to labor in general—that regulation is anti-business—he will hang in there. And if he does so, many workers' and women's groups won't be pleased.