Whose Labor Secretary? Workers Speak Out Against Puzder

Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants (CKE), a company that owns fast-food chains including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has been nominated to be the Secretary of Labor. But Puzder’s record suggests only hostility for American workers and the laws that protect them. This is bad news for women, who make up half the workforce and about two-thirds of workers in low-wage jobs, and who need strong workplace protections the most.
Puzder, a multimillionaire, has undermined and opposed many of the workplace laws and policies vital to women’s economic security and freedom from discrimination – laws he would be in charge of enforcing as the Secretary of Labor. And while Puzder, before his nomination, often could be found on TV or in newspapers attacking a higher minimum wage, breaks for workers, and paid sick leave, the voices of people working in his restaurants were missing. That changed this week, when CKE workers spoke out about their experiences in order to expose the reality of life under Puzder, and it was devastating.
On Tuesday, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United released the results of a survey of more than 500 CKE workers, who made clear that wage and hour violations and sexual harassment are all too common in their workplaces. ROC United’s new report, “Secretary of Labor Violations?: The Low Road Business Model of CKE Restaurants Inc.’s Andrew Puzder,” details the disturbing survey findings, including:

  • Close to two-thirds of women surveyed at CKE restaurants reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviors at work—more than 1.5 times the rate of sexual harassment reported in the fast food industry overall. More than half the female workers surveyed reported being harassed by customers.
  • Many workers surveyed have experienced wage theft violations. For example, about one-third reported that they have been denied overtime pay they were due, and more than a quarter reported that they were required to work off the clock.
  • Nearly seven in ten CKE workers surveyed reported that they do not have access to paid sick leave, and the vast majority (79 percent) said that they have had to prepare or serve food while sick.

Every one of these statistics has countless real human stories behind it, as was made clear at a forum at the U.S. Senate hosted by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray, where brave CKE employees described being forced to work off the clock without pay, being paid poverty wages even after years on the job, and facing retaliation for speaking up to challenge unfair or illegal treatment.
Roberto Ramirez, who worked for Carl’s Jr. for 18 years in Los Angeles, described how his manager stole and cashed his paycheck – and when he reported the theft, his hours were cut so much that he was forced to quit. Lupe Guzman, a single mother of six working a graveyard shift at a Carl’s Jr. in Las Vegas, explained that after seven years she still only makes $8.75 per hour and relies on public assistance to support her family. Laura McDonald, who worked for Carl’s Jr. for 20 years in California, including as a general manager, observed of Puzder: “I honestly can’t think of anyone less qualified to enforce laws that are supposed to protect employees.”
Yesterday, cashiers and cooks at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. took up the drumbeat, leading protests across the country against Puzder’s nomination, and in support of stronger workplace protections.
As Mr. Ramirez observed at the forum, “every single one of us deserves to live and work with dignity and respect.” The Senate will hold a hearing on Puzder’s nomination in February; we hope they agree, and vote to reject his nomination.