Workers and their advocates celebrated on Wednesday as the news broke that Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for Labor secretary. For more than 16 years, Puzder has served as the president and chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
President Donald Trump’s selection of Puzder was a direct slap in the face to workers. Originally, Trump made protecting American workers a central theme of his campaign and the plan for his first 100 days in office. Instead of keeping this promise to workers, Trump nominated Puzder, who was the kind of candidate that makes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce feel “optimistic.” Puzder was a nominee with financial ties incentivizing him to give preferential treatment to large corporations like his own rather than to defend and protect workers.
But working people saw through his empty promise and called out Puzder’s abysmal track record on labor issues for what it was. Although Puzder had claimed he would “fiercely” defend workers if confirmed as the head of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), he had been quite outspoken about his thoughts on workers prior to his nomination. He notoriously stated that he prefers automated robots to human employees. Puzder also had earned a reputation as an opponent of many basic worker protections like meaningful minimum wageincreases and overtime pay.
But Puzder wasn’t just an outspoken labor critic. His own restaurants routinely mistreated workers and violated overtime, workplace safety and other labor laws. The public heard from employees in Puzder’s own restaurants across the country as they spoke out about what it was like to work under his reign at CKE. Their experiences are disturbing. For example, CKE restaurant managers reported working several hours per week without pay. They even faced expectations to coerce or force their employees to work through meal breaks to keep labor costs down and generate more profits for the corporate bosses. Female CKE employees also reported disproportionate rate of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, and an alarming 79 percent of surveyed employees reported serving food while sick. Instead of a labor secretary who supports working families, Puzder truly would have been an anti-labor secretary.
Workers didn’t have to wait long for Trump to select Puzder’s replacement. Today, Trump announced that he chose Alexander Acosta, dean of Florida International University’s College of Law and former National Labor Relations Board member, to be the next labor secretary nominee. With this nomination, Trump must restore the trust American workers placed in him during the election. Congress must ask Acosta tough questions on where he stands on important labor issues as he moves through the confirmation process. Working families need to know: will they be getting another Puzder who will serve only to undermine them, or a labor secretary who will fight for them?
If you happen to walk by the Labor Department headquarters in Washington, you’ll note that the building is named after Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, and one of the main architects of the New Deal. Unlike Puzder, Perkins dedicated her career to uplifting workers. She was a staunch advocate for workplace health and safety. After witnessing many workers jump to their death during the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City, she helped draft 30 pieces of legislation in New York to improve working conditions. As head of the Labor Department, she championed the passage of other landmark laws safeguarding American workers and their families — notably, the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act — among many other accomplishments. This is what a Labor secretary looks like.
Leading the Labor Department is a serious responsibility fit for a Perkins-like candidate. The new labor secretary must uphold the agency’s mission “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” He or she will take the office at a time when deaths among Latino workers are rising in the United States and nearly 5,000 U.S. workers overall lose their lives on the job every year.
One of the main lessons our country learned from last year’s election is that Americans want government to be responsive to the concerns of working families. After the resounding and successful defeat of Trump’s last Labor secretary nominee, workers sent a message demanding the next Labor secretary should be less like Andrew Puzder and more like Frances Perkins — a leader who will defend and advocate for working people. In the coming weeks, you can be sure they’ll be carefully watching Acosta to see how he measures up.