In some respects, the reported selection of fast-food executive Andy Puzder to head the Labor Department is consistent with the pattern Donald Trump has set in choosing an administration populated at the top level mostly by plutocrats (Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos, and Todd Ricketts) former generals (Mike Flynn, James Mattis, and John Kelly), and grim conservative ideologues (Jeff Sessions and Tom Price). Puzder, who heads the company that owns the Carl’s Jr./Hardees chains, is a plutocrat who could give any conservative economic ideologue a run for his money.
Puzder is, however, a simply grotesque choice for Labor secretary, particularly for a president who owes his election to working-class voters. Aside from his stated opposition to higher minimum wages and most regulations protecting workers, Puzder is a central figure in an industry that is the current chief battleground of U.S. labor relations. Here’s how Politico briefly sums up the general situation with respect to fast-food workers and the particular issues involving Puzder’s companies:
The business sector from which Puzder hails may complicate his new job because food services has lately been the top target for enforcement actions by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour division. Nearly half its low-wage enforcement cases in 2015 — fully 4,787 out of 11,184 — were in the restaurant industry. (Health care placed a distant second, with 1,551 cases.)
Over the previous seven years, about 60 percent of all Labor Department investigations of Carl’s Jr. restaurants found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to data compiled by Bloomberg BNA. Most of these restaurants were owned by Carl’s Jr. franchisees rather than CKE.
The idea that the parent company of franchise businesses has no responsibility for franchise workers is something we can definitely expect the Trump administration to champion. A 3-2 decision by the National Labor Relations Board in 2015 that allowed unions representing such workers to bargain with the parent company is almost certain to be reversed once Trump appointees get in charge of the agency. Puzder’s selection should also eliminate any doubt the Labor Department will overturn the Obama administration’s decision to revise overtime rules to keep companies from just reclassifying workers as “management” and working them to death: Again, his industry is the biggest culprit in the proscribed practice, to the point that there are serious conflict-of-interest concerns about letting him oversee such regulations.
So does Pudzer just embrace some different, Trumpian theory of workers’ interests that a liberal like me cannot understand? He sure has not been sympathetic in the past to Trump’s own claim, so central to his campaign, that loose immigration laws are undermining wages. Here’s what he said just last year on a Jeb Bush donor call, according to The Hill:
“Our values indicate we should be the party of immigration reform,” Puzder said. “[Many undocumented immigrants] live in fear of being deported, losing what they’ve built and being separated from their families.”
Puzder said that Obama’s “golf trips can stop” and that he needs to act to move reform through Congress.
Back then, lest we forget, “immigration reform” meant a pathway to citizenship or at least legalization for undocumented immigrants, the very thing Trump excoriated throughout his campaign. It remains to be seen whether Puzder tacks to sync up with Trump’s major message about protecting American workers by deporting undocumented immigrants.
I suppose the selection of Scott Walker (or perhaps the new ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, whose hatred of unions is so strong she has rejected private businesses that tolerate them) could have been more offensive, but it’s a close call. Aside from everything else, Puzder seems to be a bit, well, piggy-piggy, as Politico reminds us:
Advertisements for Carl’s, Jr. have for years featured scantily clad female models eating burgers. In a 2015 interview with Entrepreneur, Puzder shrugged off accusations of sexism, pointing to a rise in sales. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” he said. “I think it’s very American … I used to hear [that] 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.”
Puzder does appear to be libido-driven:
Asked in November on Fox Business whether he would want to work in Trump’s cabinet, Puzder said, “I think it would be … the most fun you could have with your clothes on.”
There once was a time when Republican administrations made a habit of putting people into jobs like Labor secretary who could act as a friendly liaison to potentially antagonistic groups. Now it’s apparently okay not only to appoint cabinet members who doubt the very mission of their agencies (like Ben Carson at HUD and Pruitt at EPA), but who have fought that mission for years.
Donald Trump has just given the short middle finger to folks who work for wages. This cabinet appointment more than any of the others so far really shows him jumping the shark — and that’s saying a lot.