Donald Trump will be officially sworn into office in just two days. On that very same day, Senate committees will either vote to approve his top cabinet nominees or vote to advance the appointment to the full Senate. Other nominees may be considered in the following days. One of those will be fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who has been a vocal critic of increases in minimum wage and an opponent of rules that would make more workers eligible to receive overtime pay. Trump has nominated him to serve as Secretary of the Labor Department.
Puzder is the CEO of CKE restaurants, which is the parent company that oversees burger chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. He is a staunch supporter of lowering corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy, as well as loosening regulations for businesses in the hopes of job creation. He also strongly opposes the Affordable Care Act.
Now for some, these all sound like good ideas. For others, the fear is they will collectively be disastrous for the average American worker. But no matter where you stand on the political aisle, it should be of some concern that Puzder, who will be in charge of enforcing the Department of Labor’s rules, was a violator of those rules not so very long ago.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the labor secretary’s role, this is someone who is responsible for enforcing the country’s labor laws and holding unscrupulous employers accountable.
Puzder was head of the CKE, which has full control of Hardee’s, back in 2006 and 2007 when the company was the target of a wage and hour theft investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for alleged wage violations. The company later agreed to pay $58,000 in back pay to 456 employees who had been denied incentive bonuses when the company was computing overtime pay. The payouts in turn were smaller than they should have been. The department did not indicate whether the investigation was sparked by the EEOC’s own intelligence or if a worker initiated a complaint.
In addition to the system against Hardee’s Food Systems, there have been numerous Hardee’s franchises that have been in hot water over allegations of wage theft in recent years.
One case out of Tennessee resulted in the company agreeing to pay $7,600 in back pay to 29 workers. A case out of Michigan resulted in findings that the chain had shorted seven workers by $5,000. Another franchise in Missouri had to pay $4,000 to four workers who were not paid according to minimum wage laws.
Per the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, workers who are paid hourly are due time-and-a-half for any hours a week they work over 40. If Puzder is named labor secretary, one of his top jobs would be to make sure that this overtime standard is enforced.
That’s why many low-wage workers and advocates are concerned. He would be coming to Washington D.C. from an industry the department of labor is directly tasked with overseeing. Wage theft in fast-food restaurants is a particularly pervasive issue, and fast-food company workers are among the lowest paid in the nation. It’s plausible that in his role, Puzder could be responsible for possibly suing Hardee’s if workers aren’t paid what is owed to them.
The concern is that Puzder’s advocacy will be on behalf of fellow executives, rather than the low-wage workers who need workplace protections and fair pay.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.