Foes Marshal Evidence Against Trump Labor Secretary Nominee Puzder

WASHINGTON–With the Senate confirmation hearing looming for Andrew Puzder, the fast-food magnate whom Republican President-elect Donald Trump nominated to be Secretary of Labor, foes of the Puzder nod are marshaling evidence to try to convince senators to reject him

And the evidence — full of wage and hour violations, sexual harassment, job safety problems and more at his restaurants — is extensive. Whether it will convince enough Republican senators to defect from party orthodoxy is another matter. If all 48 Senate Democrats oppose Puzder, which is a big “if,” three Republicans must defect to defeat him.

One who won’t is Labor Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who praised Puzder’s commitment to deregulation. Puzder just moved his firm’s corporate headquarters from the Los Angeles area to Memphis, as Tennessee is a right-to-work state.

Puzder, 66, is the multimillionaire CEO of CKE, the parent firm of Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr. and Red and Green Burrito fast food restaurant chains. As Labor Secretary, Puzder would be responsible for enforcing minimum wage and overtime pay laws, job safety and health laws, equal pay laws and more.

In public statements, however, Puzder virulently opposes all those laws, plus the Affordable Care Act. He’s also a big GOP contributor and a leading member of two right wing business lobbies — the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation — that adamantly and stridently oppose living wages, job safety and worker rights.

Puzder’s stands prompted union leaders and his own workers to strongly protest his nomination as Labor Secretary. His other foes include a leading Latino group, the National Council of La Raza Unida, and a notable women’s rights group, Moms Rising. Most workers in Puzder’s fast food restaurants are women.

Besides Puzder’s statements, the written legal record covering his restaurants shows many violations:

• The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division cited approximately 60 percent of the Hardee’s and Carl Jr. restaurants for shorting workers on pay since Puzder took over CKE in 2000. In interviews with the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), individual workers filled in those blanks, as part of its extensive survey of 564 CKE workers.

“I’ve experienced wage theft,” former Hardee’s worker Ashley Sutphin of Piney Flats, Tenn., told ROC. “Our general manager would occasionally have me handle laundry duties and then proceed to not pay me for the work that I did. I was promised I would be paid in cash, but to this day I still haven’t seen a single penny.

“On top of the company underpaying us, we were continually pressured to clock out early. Management was always looking to cut labor costs every way possible, making it impossible to make a living while working there. To put these words into perspective, my final paycheck for the last two weeks I worked was not even $300 — and that was not the first time I received such a small paycheck from Hardee’s against my will.”

• Some 28 percent of CKE fast food workers told the ROC they were forced to work off the clock and 32 percent said they were denied overtime pay. Both are wage and hour law violations. In the reports to the ROC, the workers added restaurant managers often forced them to work through legally required shift breaks, notably in California.

“CKE Restaurants settled three class action lawsuits in 2004 for $9 million, related to the improper classification of employees as exempt under California’s wage and hour laws,” the ROC survey found. “Many workers continue to struggle with wage and hour law violations.”

• CKE Assistant managers, too, were often forced to work off the clock, they told ROC. One class-action suit, filed by CKE managers in California in 2013, for being unpaid for being “on call” 24-7, is still in the courts.

Meeting mandated profit margins at the restaurants was the main motive for the forced unpaid work, respondents said on the survey questions.

“These issues can be traced back to severe understaffing in the company, with workers reporting they remained working after clocking out to assist their co-workers. Seventy-seven percent reported they do not have enough staff to perform their jobs well, and 36 percent do not have enough time to finish their work, or perform high quality work,” ROC reported.

• CKE’s legal troubles aren’t over. “The company is facing several potential class-action lawsuits by its employees regarding disputes over wages and meal and rest breaks,” 21 Senate Democrats wrote to Alexander. The firm even mentioned the lawsuits in its required Securities and Exchange Commission filings, as a threat to its future profits.

“Other allegations at CKE restaurants have raised concerns about compliance with health and safety standards,” the senators said. The Democrats, including their committee leader, Patty Murray, D-Wash., want Alexander to provide time for outside witnesses to present evidence about Puzder’s business record.

• The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited CKE’s restaurants for job safety violations involving burns.

OSHA records show the most recent violation was on July 15, 2013, at CKE’s Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Buena Park, Calif. “On July 15, 2013, Employee #1 was assigned variety duties, which included cleaning floors at the end of a shift,” OSHA’s report states. “A supervisor instructed her to use hot water that ranged from 180-212 degrees Fahrenheit from a dispenser machine to clean the floors. The dispenser was located on a counter at approximately waist height and was used to fill a bucket without a top cover.

“Employee #1 lifted the filled 9-liter open top orange bucket with hot water from the dispenser. As she did this, the bucket fell and splashed hot water onto her body, scalding her. Employee #1 was transported to a medical center, where she was treated for her burns and then hospitalized,” OSHA’s report concludes. OSHA’s prober found serious and repeated job safety violations at the restaurant and the agency levied a $23,420 fine.

* The Restaurant Opportunities Center survey found 20 percent of CKE workers were “pressured to get work done in a way that could cause injury to themselves or others.” And 31 percent became sick or injured at work, often having to “struggle to navigate slippery floors, endure grease burns, and clean hoods over hot char broilers without personal protective equipment.”  OSHA requires firms to provide such equipment.

The National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, a pro-worker group, surveyed 1,426 fast food workers in February 2015 and found 79 percent suffered burns on the job during the previous 12 months. Fifty-eight percent were burned more than once.

“If Mr. Puzder is nominated as Secretary of Labor, we’re hopeful he can tell us what he’s learned about workplace safety during his tenure in the fast food industry,” National COSH co-director Jessica Martinez told a conference in Baltimore in December.

• Despite federal law mandating unpaid sick leave with a guarantee of returning to work for workers at firms with at least 50 employees, CKE offers no sick leave. As a result, four out of five CKE workers have at times reported to work while sick, the ROC report says.

• Hardee’s has fired at least one worker, in Asheville, N.C., for publicly speaking out as part of the union-backed Fight for 15 movement for better wages for fast-food workers. Such retaliation is illegal under labor law.

Johaunna Cromer told local media there she was fired after taking scheduled time off to travel to Illinois for the Fight for 15 protest at McDonald’s headquarters in 2015. When she returned, her manager handed her a piece of paper saying she was fired.

Other labor law-breaking cases against CKE, filed by workers at three Hardee’s, were settled before trials or hearings, a check of National Labor Relations Board records show.

• Hardee’s settled an employment discrimination case with a $34,000 payment to the disabled female worker, in its Oak Grove, Mo., restaurant, without admitting guilt. The worker had a “craniofacial condition,” and the restaurant refused to hire her, court papers show.

The settlement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis in 2005, paints a different picture. In it, Hardee’s agreed to contact the Job Accommodation Network in the St. Louis area for what “accommodations are available” to let a disabled job-seeker work there.

It also promised to train Oak Grove managers and HR people on the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and ordered Hardee’s to file, every three months, “a list of all individuals who claim they were denied employment at the Oak Grove Restaurant…as a result of a disability,” including contact information and why the restaurant turned them down.

• CKE workers told the Restaurant Opportunities Center, in its comprehensive survey, of numerous instances of sexual harassment on the job. Seventy-seven percent of the 564 respondents were female and two-thirds of all respondents reported some form of harassment. The overall sexual harassment rate at all fast-food restaurants is 40 percent, calculations from data show. Sexual harassment rates at CKE restaurants ranged from sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions (61 percent) to rape or attempted rape on the job (4 percent).

• While Puzder opposes federal programs to aid low-income workers, CKE sought federal aid in 2010 for information technology workers in its Anaheim, Calif., headquarters, whose jobs were outsourced to the Philippines. The Labor Department’s Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) certified that CKE’s Client Services Division IT workers at the corporate headquarters were eligible for the aid, starting in August 2010, for two years. TAA aid is meant for workers who lose their jobs due to subsidized foreign imports.

All this led Murray to be skeptical of Puzder’s qualifications and led Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., another Labor Committee member, to oppose him outright. The two joined ROC in releasing its report, and both signed the letter to Alexander. “Mr. Puzder is not the kind of American person that workers can trust to stand up for them,” Warren said.

It’s also led pro-worker groups and leaders to oppose Puzder.

“Puzder would be a fine choice to head a government agency responsible for looking out for millionaires,” said Communications Workers President Chris Shelton. “But Puzder has a record of public statements and action that demonstrates why he is a poor choice to head the agency responsible for promoting the welfare of wage earners, job seekers and retirees. Puzder opposes many of the policies and programs he would administer. He objects to efforts to increase the minimum wage. He thinks government support programs for low-wage workers — like those who work at his own restaurant franchises — are a disincentive to work.”

“This is not the type of Secretary of Labor our nation needs,” said MomsRising CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. “Throughout his career as CEO of CKE Restaurants, Puzder has consistently disrespected the basic rights of working people — arguing that even 10-minute meal breaks for employees working an eight-hour shift constitute an ‘undue burden’ on employers. It’s no surprise to find then that nearly half of the Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s restaurants run by Puzder have been cited with at least one wage-and-hour violation.

“Puzder’s past pronouncements show disregard and even contempt for workers and their welfare, and retrograde and demeaning views of women,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza. “He strongly opposes common-sense measures to improve wages for America’s workers. His company and its franchisees have been riddled with violations of labor laws covering their workers, many of whom are Latino and Latina. ”

Source: PAI