Fox guarding the chicken coop

We need a champion of workers now, more than at any point since the Great Depression.

In his inaugural address, the President promised that every decision he makes will be for the benefit of American workers. His choice for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, suggests quite the opposite.

The mission of the Department of Labor is quite clear: “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.” In other words, to be a champion of workers.

We need a champion of workers now, more than at any point since the Great Depression. Wage earners have seen decades of stagnant wages even while productivity has risen. The gains from growth have gone almost entirely to those at the top, to Wall Street, to soaring CEO salaries, to those who profited from the financial meltdown that left millions of workers facing foreclosure. Wage theft has become commonplace, and labor unions are under attack and dwindling in numbers. We have become a low-wage economy.

So who does the President propose to run the one department that could do the most to reverse some of these trends? The millionaire CEO of a low-wage corporation that has been a serial violator of wages and hours laws, the very laws he would be charged with enforcing.

Andrew Puzder is the CEO of CKE restaurants, which runs two fast-food chains: Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Those businesses have been investigated numerous times; in 53 percent of the wage and hour investigations and 51 percent of the workplace safety investigations they have been found in violation of the law. His companies have been sued for sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

As CEO, Puzder made more in one day than a minimum wage worker could earn in a year, yet he opposes any meaningful increase in the minimum wage. He opposed the Obama administration rule change that expanded overtime protections to 12.5 million middle class workers. That rule would prevent employers from classifying workers as salaried instead of hourly and then requiring them to work unpaid overtime.

Puzder has opposed meal and rest breaks for workers. He opposes mandatory sick leave. In fact, he would prefer not to have to deal with workers at all; he has expressed interest in replacing Carl’s Jr. employees with machines.

Putting Puzder in charge of enforcing wage laws is letting the fox guard the chicken coop. The fast food industry that he represents is one of the lowest wage sectors of the economy and one of the most prone to violating labor standards. That presents a clear conflict of interest.

Puzder would join a cabinet full of Wall Street executives, millionaires, and at least two billionaires, the wealthiest administration in modern times, many times wealthier than that of Obama or George W. Bush. One-percenters will be running the show.

Much of what the secretary of labor does is under the radar for most Americans. But the daily lives of millions of workers can be improved or worsened in significant ways, depending on how well the agency protects them from the worst abuses of our low-wage economy. If Andrew Puzder becomes Secretary of Labor, the prospects for workers are not bright.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

Contact: pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

Author: iowapolicypoints

The Iowa Policy Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides research and analysis to engage Iowans in state policy decisions. We focus on tax and busget issues, the Iowa economy, and energy and environmental policy. By providing a foundation of fact-based, objective research and engaging the public in an informed discussion of policy alternatives, IPP advances effective, accountable and fair government.

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