California has some of the best state-level worker protection laws in the country. It’s something Andrew Pudzer always opposed in his adopted state, where the Midwest lawyer moved and succeeded in building up a once-failing fast-food chain.
Pudzer, President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of the U.S. Labor Department, was an outspoken critic of the tight workplace regulations in California. These included mandatory rest breaks, which he asserted were unfair particularly in the restaurant industry as he complained it meant businesses were understaffed just as the rush of customers were coming in. He argued that the laws passed to protect hourly workers resulted in a “nanny state,” which he said flew in the face of capitalism.
But Pudzer’s company displayed time and again exactly why laws are needed to protect our workers. Ultimately, his business ended up paying out millions of dollars for class action lawsuits that alleged wage-and-hour theft and other workers’ rights laws. He is CEO of a restaurant group that franchises, licenses and operates several fast-food chains, including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
As secretary of the Department of Labor, Pudzer will be in charge of overseeing occupational safety, wage and hour standards, unemployment benefits and economic statistics. Yet, he himself was fighting the agency and its regulations not all that long ago.
There were three class action wage-and-hour lawsuits against the company in the early aughts, which were ultimately settled for $9 million. The allegations involved failure to pay overtime.
When Pudzer was nominated to the Labor Department post, many voiced concerns about whether he would truly be an advocate for disenfranchised workers. After all, this was the same man who was vehemently opposed to the $15-an-hour minimum wage, stating, “How good can you be at scooping ice cream?”
Now, a new report by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Corporate Accountability International have released a report detailing the various ethical problems with Pudzer being appointed to this post. The analysis is based on a survey of nearly 600 workers of Pudzer’s company. Among the findings:
- Two-thirds of female employees surveyed alleged sexual harassment at work.
- One-third of all workers claimed they had been victims of wage theft (specifically, they worked more than 40 hours a week without being paid time-and-a-half).
- Nearly half said they had been denied their mandatory 10-minute break every four hours.
- More than one-quarter reported that they have worked “off the clock” at Pudzer’s restaurants. Some workers had their time cards altered to reflect less time than they actually worked.
- Nearly 4 out of 5 reported they had prepared food while sick and 70 percent said they do not have access to sick leave. That means they have little option but to come into work while sick.
Pudzer has made statements before that are starkly anti-worker. For example, he was quoted once as saying he would like to replace workers with robots who “never take a vacation.” This of course while the company spent more than $1.3 million a year in perks for him, including recreational and social club dues, trip awards and travel by corporate car and jet. Further, he has criticized rules that ensure a short break for workers over a long shift, time in which might be used to say, make a personal phone call. Meanwhile, the company pays $4,500 a year for Pudzer’s own personal cell phone.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Employees Allege Wage Theft and Sexual Harassment by Trump’s Potential Secretary of Labor’s Restaurants, Jan. 13, 2017, By Sarah Betancourt, Paste Magazine
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