Trump Picks Fast Food Tycoon to Serve as Secretary of Labor

President-elect Donald Trump has made some controversial choices in filling out his cabinet thus far, among them a fast-food chain CEO who will ostensibly be charged with protecting the rights and interests of low-income workers throughout the country. Andy Puzder, Trump’s pick for the Secretary of Labor, is better known as the chief executive of California-based CKE Restaurants, which owns the franchises Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Green Burrito, and Red Burrito.

Puzder will follow in the footsteps of Tom Perez, a former civil rights attorney, and Hilda Solis, a labor advocate who now serves as Los Angeles County supervisor. Under President Obama, the U.S. Department of Labor has made it a priority to address wage gaps, overtime pay, and other labor issues that tend to plague restaurant workers more than most other industries.

In the past five years, for example, more than $167 million in back wages have been distributed to restaurant workers whose employers failed to comply with wage enforcement laws. Among them are Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. More than 60% of investigations into the two franchises since 2009 have revealed at least one violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Unfortunately, that gives CKE a fairly good labor track record, at least compared to other restaurants like Burger King or Dunkin’ Donuts that have even more repeated and flagrant citations for violations of labor laws.

The future of the department under Puzder will likely take a drastic turn away from Obama’s progressivism. Puzder has vocally opposed raising the federal minimum wage above $9 per hour, despite the fact that the food and beverage industry witnessed a 13% increase in sales and 17% increase in profits from 2012 to 2013. He authored an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in 2014 arguing that Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour would eliminate jobs, and called California Governor Jerry Brown’s approval of a $15 state minimum wage “horrific.”

At the same time, Puzder has expressed interest in moving his own company further towards automated machines that would eliminate the need for human workers. He told Business Insider earlier this year that service robots are “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.”

With millions of workers employed in restaurants across the country — there are more than 7,300 restaurants in Chicago alone, and some 8,500 just in Los Angeles — Puzder’s charge as Labor Secretary is more likely to protect the interests of high-level CEOs and corporations than the run-of-the-mill worker that Trump so heavily depended on to win the election. At the same time, Puzder’s bootstraps philosophy does speak to the same kind of promises that Trump frequently made to displaced blue collar workers on the campaign trail about the value of manufacturing jobs and industry.

“I started out scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins at a dollar an hour,” Puzder has said. “I learned a lot about inventory and customer service… but there’s no way in the world that scooping ice cream is worth $15 an hour, and no one ever intended it would ever be something that a person could support a family on. …Those jobs just don’t produce that kind of value like a construction job or a manufacturing job does.”

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