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August 22, 2017

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Puzder’s Cabinet nomination is bad news for working people

Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, would be a fine choice to head a government agency responsible for looking out for millionaires. Instead, he’s been tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Labor Department, which for more than 100 years has been responsible “for promoting the welfare of wage earners, job seekers and retirees.”

The Labor Department looks out for ordinary working people when it comes to keeping jobs safe and making sure workers aren’t shortchanged or cheated when it comes to their wages.

Puzder seems likely to turn all that upside down. According to his public statements, he opposes many of the policies and programs he would be responsible for administering. This is not what Trump voters wanted.

Puzder opposes the Labor Department’s overtime rule and actually claimed that what workers “lose in overtime pay they gain in stature and sense of accomplishment” (Wall Street Journal, 3/25/14).

What does this means for a worker, say, in the fast-food industry? According to the Economic Policy Institute, under the old rule, an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant could be forced to work 60 to 70 hours a week for no extra pay beyond their 40-hour paycheck. The extra 20 to 30 hours were completely free to the employer, so those extra hours — without pay, remember — were scheduled without restraint.

Under the new rule, only employees earning at least $47,476 a year can be denied overtime pay. (The rule is being reviewed by the courts.)

Puzder’s notion of “stature and a sense of accomplishment” actually means another 20 to 30 more hours of unpaid work every week by employees. Those extra hours without pay might build character, according to Puzder, but they definitely build up CEO compensation.

Puzder rejects increasing the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t been raised since July 2009. Over the years, the purchasing value of the minimum wage has dropped 10 percent, and overall, minimum-wage workers earn 25 percent less today than a minimum-wage worker in 1968.

Puzder wrongly maintains that it’s primarily teenagers who work at jobs paying the minimum wage. The reality is that more than 49 percent of minimum-wage workers are 25 or older, and about a third work full time at jobs including retail sales, call centers, airports and the fast-food industry. Many workers must work two or more minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet.

Puzder also believes that government support programs for low-wage workers — such as those who work at his own restaurant franchises — are a disincentive to work (The Hill, 6/22/15).

It’s shameful that in the richest country in the world, wages for many fast-food and retail workers are so low that these workers qualify for food stamps, public housing assistance and Medicaid. Yet, that’s the reality for millions of low-wage workers. It is low-wage employers — like Puzder’s fast-food chains — that are the cause of workers living in poverty. Yet, Puzder seems to begrudge these workers the ability to even receive food stamps.

What does Puzder think about working people? Apparently he thinks they aren’t worth the bother and actually prefers machines. Puzder says that contrary to human workers, machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case” (Fortune, 3/17/16).

Given his expressed dislike for live human workers, it’s not surprising that Puzder also has weighed in on required rest and meal breaks for workers of 30 minutes in a five-hour period, and 10 minutes in a four-hour period, telling The Orange County Register that a manager might watch the restaurant fall apart during a sudden rush because managers aren’t allowed to take a break when they choose.

Of course machines won’t be buying very many hamburgers, will they?

Puzder’s positions provide a troubling roadmap as to what he would attempt — or choose to ignore — as secretary of labor. The 150 million working people in the U.S. deserve better. They deserve a labor secretary who is on their side.

Until that happens, my union, and the entire labor movement, will fight employer wage theft, make sure workers can be safe on their jobs, stand up against poverty-level wages and challenge employer abuse. We will be the advocates that working people need because, sadly, that help won’t be coming from Andrew Puzder’s Labor Department.

Chris Shelton is president of the Communications Workers of America, representing 700,000 men and women in telecommunications, airlines, media, public service and health care, and manufacturing. He wrote this for insidesources.com.

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