Feb. 7, 2017 – By now, anyone following Andrew Puzder’s nomination to be the Secretary of Labor knows that the restaurant chain he leads has a long history of cheating its workers out of wages they earned. Not just the franchisees that own the bulk of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees restaurants, but CKE itself, the franchisor corporation, has been found guilty of wage theft and compelled to pay back tens of thousands of dollars of wages stolen from workers earning poverty level wages. The U.S. Department of Labor, which he seeks to head, is the agency that busted Puzder’s corporation.
Today, the New York Times reports that Puzder violated immigration laws, too, not in his role as CEO of the restaurant chain, but in his private life. For years, Puzder employed a housekeeper who was not authorized to work in the United States, and also failed to pay employment taxes.
Puzder wants to be the chief enforcer of the nation’s labor laws, but his history of flouting those laws makes it clear that he is unfit for the job. Puzder’s violations of immigration law make him a strange choice to be a cabinet officer in Donald Trump’s administration, given the president’s near hysteria about the presence of undocumented immigrant workers in the United States.
But it might be Puzder’s early career as a lawyer that shows most clearly just how poor a choice for Labor Secretary Puzder is. The Department of Labor is responsible for overseeing the safety of retirement funds for millions of workers, including pension funds negotiated by unions on behalf of their members. Puzder could have worked for the department in the Reagan administration, helping to protect union funds from criminals and mobsters who wanted to loot them, but he didn’t. He worked for the mobsters’ lawyers.
“The year was 1983, and Mr. Puzder was working at a law firm owned by a famous mob lawyer and casino owner whom the Labor Department accused of squandering $25 million from his union workers’ pension funds on sham investments.
It fell to Mr. Puzder to lead the defense, which he framed in aggressively antigovernment terms. In his opening statement, Mr. Puzder told the jury it was not his boss’s fault for not paying back the money — it was overzealous regulators in Washington who had killed off a good business deal by intervening before his investments could succeed, he said.”
“The jury did not buy it. Mr. Puzder’s boss, Morris A. Shenker, was hit with a $34 million judgment and filed for bankruptcy.”
The Department of Labor under President Obama issued a rule that requires financial experts who advise workers on their retirement investments to act in the best interest of the retirees, rather than in their own interest. It is no wonder that Puzder opposes this rule, given his history of defending those who, in the words of the Labor Department lawyer who prosecuted the case, “thought it was O.K. to screw his employees.”
Andrew Puzder is uniquely unfit to be the secretary charged with defending America’s working men and women. President Trump should pull Puzder’s nomination and find someone with a career devoted to protecting the interests of employees, not to cheating them. His nominee should be someone who respects and follows the law and who will be committed to enforcing our labor laws rather than evading them.
Ross Eisenbrey is the Vice Presidentof the Economic Policy Institute. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. www.epi.org