His company has relied on hyper-sexualized images of women to sell burgers, saying in a 2011 news release, “Ugly ones don’t sell burgers.”
AFTER being delayed four times already, the Senate on Thursday is expected to consider the nomination of Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labor. The department’s job is to protect workers by ensuring minimum-wage and overtime payment, safe and healthy workplaces, and maintaining critical workforce statistics. If Puzder is confirmed as Secretary, DOL’s fundamental enforcement role will be in jeopardy.
There is an epidemic of wage theft in the United States. A survey of more than 4,000 low-wage workers conducted by the National Employment Law Project indicated that more than 1 million employees were not paid minimum wage, not paid overtime and not given the breaks that they are entitled to. Among those low-wage workers surveyed:
• 26 percent were paid below minimum wage in the previous week, and fully 60 percent of those workers were underpaid by $1 an hour or more.
• 75 percent were not paid overtime after working more than 40 hours in the previous week.
• Nearly 75 percent were not paid for “off the clock” hours worked beyond their daily shift.
• An overwhelming majority (86 percent) were not provided meal or rest breaks.
Undocumented workers are by far the hardest hit by wage theft — nearly half report having been victimized in the past week. These are not simple arithmetic errors but part of a conscious effort by some employers to skirt wage and hour laws designed to help all workers — regardless of race, gender and immigration status.
One of DOL’s main functions is to combat wage theft through investigation and enforcement. If Puzder becomes secretary, he can make his own decisions on what or how strongly to enforce. How many investigators should be hired? Which cases should DOL litigate? Puzder could de-prioritize immigrant workers, or worse, require workers to disclose their immigration status as part of the investigation process. He could decide that any fast food case will fall lower on the priority scale or simply be ignored.
Puzder spent his career in fast food, running Hardee’s and Carl’s Junior restaurants, where the business model relies on paying poverty wages. He opposes raising the minimum wage and basic benefits like paid sick days. He has even complained about having to give employees rest and meal breaks. His company has relied on hyper-sexualized images of women to sell burgers, which the marketing department justified in a 2011 news release by saying, “Ugly ones don’t sell burgers.”
Not surprisingly, his company has wracked up an impressive record of wage and hour complaints and discrimination lawsuits. An investigation by Capital & Main found that since Puzder became CEO in 2000, the company was hit with more federal racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits than any other major hamburger chain in the country. Recently, a group of workers from his company filed 22 claims of wage and hour violations, seven unfair labor practice charges, and four claims of sexual harassment.
Seattle workers are fortunate to live in a city where the mayor and city council are committed to worker rights, passing a historic minimum-wage law, enacting a paid sick and safe time law, and putting in place several other workplace protections. We take local enforcement of these laws seriously. But for the vast majority of workers who do not have the benefit of local labor protections like ours, DOL’s role enforcing labor laws is absolutely critical to ensuring employers play by the same set of rules and workers receive the money they’ve earned.
Wage theft is already rampant in the low-wage economy, and Puzder’s record leading a major fast-food company demonstrates a clear disregard, if not contempt, for even our most basic labor standards. If you believe we need to do more to advance opportunities and protect the rights of low-wage workers, then Puzder is not the person who should lead the Department of Labor.