Worrying about Wages as Trump Considers Puzder for Labor Secretary

November 29, 2016; American Prospect

Once, the New York Times praised the way President Obama championed workers rights as his term waned. Now, the American Prospect laments that the next U.S. Labor Secretary will most likely roll back Obama’s pro-worker executive orders and regulations. Some names shortlisted as possible Trump picks are Victoria Lipnic, Lou Beretta, and Scott Walker. Another name yet lingering in the media is Andy Puzder, the millionaire CEO of CKR, the company that owns fast-food burger chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

Puzder has championed every aspect of right-wing trickle-down economics. Rolling back taxation and regulation for the rich and corporations will lift the economy, he’s argued, as well as getting rid of all those minimum wage hikes. […] As the Fight for 15 has called on policymakers and CEOs to increase pay for low-wage workers, Puzder has become the tribune of low-wage employers.”

One aspect seems clear: As Labor Secretary, Puzder could be the Fight for 15’s worst nightmare, even as SEIU-backed strikes to advance a $15 minimum wage proliferate. Not only is Puzder described as “a sworn foe of raising the minimum wage,” he is also a “harsh conservative critic of Obama.” Referring to last Tuesday’s largest Fight for 15 protest, he told Fox Business that, “If your concern is creating entry-level jobs for young Americans, then a $15 minimum wage is something you should be protesting against…if your objective is to bolster and support the unions, then you should be protesting in favor of a $15 minimum wage. […]I think most people are concerned about young people.”

However, the American Prospect cites the Economic Policy Institute, which says the “vast-majority of minimum wage workers are not teenagers; in fact, the average worker is 35. More than one-quarter have children and the average minimum-wage worker earns half their family’s total income.”

Puzder is also said to strongly oppose the NLRB’s recent joint employer standard that would hold corporations responsible for any franchisees’ wage and hour violations. A former chairman of the GOP economic policy subcommittee, he blames government assistance programs for keeping workers in poverty while arguing that “expanding access to overtime pay would diminish the prestige of entry-level management jobs.” As member of a prominent group promoting business conservatism (Job Creators Network) that espouses the belief that any minimum wage increase “would kill jobs,” Puzder is said to have ties with “anti-union Astroturf operative Richard Berman.” In addition, the foreword of a book he co-authored (Job Creation: How it Really Works and Government Doesn’t Understand It) was written by “supply-side economics guru Arthur Laffer.”

Talk Poverty reported that last year, the CEO earned in a day more than one of his full-time fast food employees would make in a year ($17,192 versus $15,130). That said, he endorses his preference for automating fast-food jobs due to what the American Prospect describes as his feelings about the “cumbersome costs entailed in paying human beings.” He also accuses his employees of turning down promotions and additional hours because they do not want to lose their government benefits; meanwhile, the American Prospect argues “the main reason why his workers must rely on government assistance is that companies like his pay poverty wages and limit access to full-time hours.”

Puzder prefers an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) policy that puts the responsibility more on the government to “bolster income for the working poor with federal dollars.” Judi Conti, coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, argues against what she calls a form of corporate welfare that no full-time worker should need, calling it hypocritical for corporate conservatives to expect taxpayers to cover such costs.

Puzder further criticized Obama’s overtime rule to Forbes. He argued against changing the overtime rule to allow managers who make between $23,660 and $47,476 (the upgraded threshold) to earn extra money for more hours; to him, the rule would not only end up reducing hours, salaries, and bonuses but diminish a manager’s “sense of ownership” and “prestige” of not being a “glorified crew member.” Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute debunks this argument; rather, he counter-argues that companies have successfully absorbed overtime pay in the past. Fast-food executives could easily raise the prices of their restaurants’ sandwiches, as their competitors would be obliged to do the same. (Or, of course, they could also redirect a portion of top executive pay towards covering the costs.)

The mindset of Puzder appears a 180-degree shift from current Labor Secretary, Tom Perez, who has ardently argued on behalf of low-wage workers. As Conti put it, “Perez gets up every day to make lives better for those who are struggling,” while she believes, Puzder would “ make life better for millionaires and billionaires…at the expense of those who are struggling.”

Puzder has not only been one of Trump’s major campaign funders, but is also his so-called “trickle-down agenda economic advisor” who responded to Entrepreneur about his own company’s advertisements of “scantily clad models eating 1,000-calorie-plus burgers” as being “very American.” Noting Puzder’s taste for political incorrectness, the American Prospect states that he told a Fox news reporter that working on Trump’s administration would be “the most fun you could have with your clothes on.” Perhaps not for everyone.—Noreen Ohlrich