How would most workers react if the CEO of the company that employs them was nominated to be the U.S. secretary of labor? They would view it as an attack on all workers’ rights — and they’d be correct. President-elect billionaire Donald Trump has nominated the virulently anti-labor Andrew Puzder to oversee the department that ostensibly protects workers’ rights and enforces federal labor laws and regulations.
Multimillionaire Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., which owns and operates Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and other fast food chains employing 70,000 workers at 3,748 restaurants in 44 states and 39 countries. The company rakes in $1.3 billion in revenue annually.
But those who toil in these fast-food eateries were not having it. They began mobilizing nationally to oppose Puzder’s nomination ever since his name was raised. CKE employees are among the most vehement forces renouncing the CEO’s appointment. On Jan. 12, they went into the streets to demand that the Senate block Puzder from becoming the secretary of labor.
From Boston to Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla., to Chicago, where airport workers joined them, thousands of low-wage workers took to the streets with the Fight for $15 campaign, fighting for a higher hourly minimum wage and union rights. In 26 cities, which also included New York, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., Richmond, Va., and Charleston, S.C., they marched to the doors of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants and held rallies, denouncing Puzder.
The workers’ signs said it all: “Puzder gets rich while keeping his employees poor” and “Puzder earns more in 1 day than I do in 1 year.” Speakers stressed the CEO’s opposition to overtime pay, minimum wage hikes, paid sick leave and breaks for workers, as well as his violations of workers’ rights and complicity in wage theft.
In many cities, demonstrators held signs asserting “Black lives matter” and “Immigrant justice” in addition to “Fight for $15.”
Fight for $15 activists also participated in Martin Luther King Day commemorations. In Chicago, fast food workers told their stories to a packed hall and explained why a $15 minimum wage was essential to their families’ well-being. Kim D., a McDonald’s employee, stressed, “We are not backing down until we win economic, immigrant and racial justice.” (Fightfor15 Chicago)
Puzder’s company violates labor laws
Puzder criticizes the Fight for $15 campaign. He praises robots’ work over human labor because they “never take a vacation [or] show up late,” and don’t sue for age, race or sex discrimination. (Kansas City Star, Jan. 12) He supports repeal of the Affordable Care Act and endorses cuts to Medicaid, which his workers must turn to when their employer don’t provide health care benefits.
CKE has been sued numerous times by employees claiming discrimination and wage, hour and safety violations. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers says 66 percent of CKE’s women workers have reported sexual harassment at work. “Almost a third of respondents worked off the clock. Approximately one-third reported a wide range of wage theft violations, including not receiving required breaks and overtime pay.” (demos.org, Jan. 13)
Puzder claims, in an attempt to justify low pay, that mainly teenagers work at minimum-wage jobs. But 70 percent of fast food workers are in their 20s or older and many are women. One-third of them support their families, with a large number working two or three jobs to do so.
Puzder and other capitalist millionaires like him — who seek to squeeze the most out of their workforce for the lowest pay — are responsible for the impoverished living conditions of millions of workers.
The workforce at CKE’s eateries knows more than anyone the dangers of Puzder being the secretary of labor. Demos.org quoted Terence Dixon, Hardee’s worker in St. Louis, at the Jan. 12 protest, “If Puzder is confirmed as labor secretary, it will mean the Trump years will be about low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment and racial discrimination instead of making life better for [workers] like me.”
The minimum wage is scheduled to increase in 21 states and at least 22 cities this year, but mostly not to the $15 rate. (CNN Money, Dec. 19) The wage gains reached so far must be attributed to the strength and determination of the Fight for $15 movement, with major participation by immigrant, Latinx and African-American workers.
Fight for $15 says, “We face an uncertain future, but what we are certain about is the power of our solidarity.” It is bound to grow and strengthen as the multinational working class and its organizations and allies mount opposition to the attacks by anti-labor forces in Washington.