The union-backed “Fight for $15” movement continues to protest Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, current CKE Enterprises (comprised of Carl’s Jr and Hardee restaurants) CEO, Andrew Puzder in many cities across the nation. The group has been successful in raising the minimum wage in California and New York and fights to help fast food workers in America come together and unionize. Members of the movement have attempted to paint Puzder as anti-worker primarily because of his firm stance against raising the minimum wage. They argue that Trump is betraying his promise to fix a broken economy through this nomination, making the case that leaving the minimum wage where it is (or lowering/abolishing it has he has at times suggested during his campaign) will only further advance the divide between the rich and poor across the nation.
Several business groups backing Puzder, have made the argument that the protests are a calculated smear campaign, protesters comprising of paid union activists, not actual workers. They argue that these protests distract the American public from the real issue at hand – driving economic growth at all levels. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a left leaning nonprofit, released a Study on Tuesday concluding that employees in Puzder’s organization often face unfair treatment in the workplace. According to the study, 38% of workers report being forced to work off the clock and 32% say they were not paid overtime when they worked for it.
However, Bloomberg also reported that an analysis of Labor Department enforcement data under the Obama administration found that workers in Puzder’s corporate owned restaurants ranked among the lowest levels of scrutiny as a percentage of overall stores among fast food restaurants, though this trend is not seen amongst franchise locations. That being said, in 2004 CKE Enterprises paid $9M to settle California lawsuits claiming unpaid overtime for restaurant managers, and per current data CKE Enterprises have over 50% more sexual harassment claims than the industry average so the picture may not be as clear cut as Puzder supporters suggest.
Included in protestors was Laura McDonald, a longtime general manager at a corporate CKE Restaurant. She is part of two potential class action lawsuits against CKE Enterprises, which during her tenure switched general managers from salaried to hourly positions. Per Reuters, she argued that the switch resulted in managers needing to work close to 48 hours per week to attain the same level of compensation she received as a salaried employee.
Among Puzder’s top priorities, he is expected to remain firm in his stance against raising the minimum wage and to roll back policies designed to fight unpaid overtime issues and improving worker safety. Protesters point out the irony that Puzder will be nominated to protect workers, when he has been one of the loudest proponents of automating the fast food industry and replacing their jobs completely, arguing that machines “never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.” Senate Democrats, including progressive standout Elizabeth Warren, held their own hearing on Tuesday to ramp up their efforts in the fight against Puzder, after Republicans halted their efforts to bring witnesses to Puzder’s confirmation hearing to testify against him. However, using history as an indicator, Democrats face an uphill battle as out of the last one hundred and nine nominations to cabinet positions, only six did not attain Senate approval.