When it comes to jobs, the fast food industry represents the worst of our economy: paying poverty wages; offering irregular, part-time hours; and providing few benefits. Wage theft and workplace safety hazards are rampant. An executive who has built his personal wealth on a fast food business model that treats working people as cheap and disposable is among the worst possible choices to lead the Department of Labor. Yet Donald Trump has selected fast food CEO Andrew Puzder for the responsibility of protecting American workers.
Mr. Puzder’s company, fast food chain CKE Restaurants, Inc. - which includes Hardees and Carl’s Jr. - is a serial violator of the very workplace laws that the Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing. Since Puzder assumed control in 2000, CKE and its franchisees have been charged with 98 safety violations under state and federal law, including 36 serious violations. This includes incidents where workers who were not provided proper safety equipment or training were hospitalized with severe burns.
Puzder’s company has also violated the Fair Labor Standards Act at more than half of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, failing to pay workers the minimum wage and overtime. And under Puzder’s leadership CKE has also been sued for sexual harassment and discrimination in hiring, including violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and state human rights laws.
Dēmos’ research finds that fast food is one of the most unequal industries in the United States with regards to pay. In 2012, fast food CEOs, who are among the highest paid individuals in today’s workforce, took home more than 1,200 times the paycheck of the average fast food worker. Today’s average fast food employee only makes $9.09 an hour. Even at 40 hours a week, this hourly rate leaves many fast food workers living below the federal poverty line.
Puzder and others have defended these poor working conditions by arguing that these are meant to be entry level jobs for teenagers looking to gain work experience. Yet today’s fast food workforce no longer matches this picture: recent data from the Census Bureau show that two-thirds of the industry’s workforce is aged 20 or older, and more than 20 percent of fast food workers are raising children, struggling to support them on fluctuating schedules and poverty wages.
And while Puzder’s law-breaking record should immediately disqualify him from serving as Secretary of Labor, it should give all working people reason to worry.
Today a growing percentage of U.S. employment has come to resemble fast food jobs: a quarter of the nation’s working households depending on the pay of low-wage workers including Americans working in the retail, home health care, and food service industries. On its current path, the economy is set to generate more of the same: analysis of U.S. Department of Labor statistics reveals that 28 percent of the new jobs being created over the next decade will be in occupations paying median hourly wages below $12 an hour.
Only smart employment policies and strong enforcement by the Department of Labor can change the trend toward an economy based on low paying fast food-style jobs. The modernized overtime pay rule put forth by President Obama would boost incomes for 12.5 million salaried workers including managers in fast food restaurants and retail outlets. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would lift millions more working households out of poverty. Strengthening the ability of working people to join together in unions could help transform service sector jobs just as unions raised standards for dirty, dangerous and low-paying manufacturing and mining jobs in the last century. Yet Andrew Puzder has ties to anti-union groups and has spoken out against the minimum wage and overtime, insisting that “a national minimum wage would be ineffective,” and that the overtime rule would “be another barrier to the middle class rather than a springboard.”
The Fight for 15 movement began in 2012 when hundreds of fast food workers in New York City walked off the job calling for a $15 wage and the right to form a union. In the years following, they were joined by child care workers, retail associates, airport employees, adjunct university faculty and a wide range of other working people pushing back against fast food-style wages and jobs seeping into many corners of the U.S. economy.
We need vigorous enforcement of labor and employment laws to turn back the tide transforming a growing portion of U.S. jobs into low-paying, disrespected employment. As Secretary of Labor, law-breaker Andrew Puzder would put us on an express train in the wrong direction. Senators who care about working people and the quality of American jobs must vote against confirming him.
This piece was originally published at the Huffington Post.