Andrew Puzder Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Activists put Puzder's record at CKE under the microscope

Business groups defend the U.S. labor secretary nominee as activists take aim

Andrew Puzder’s record as CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., the parent to Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has come under fire this week from labor activists seeking to derail his nomination as U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Business groups, who have cheered the nomination, pushed back, defending Puzder’s employment record as the head of the quick-service burger operator.

The two groups released two surveys of CKE workers, each with very different results, to back their claims regarding Puzder’s record. The debate has emerged as the U.S. Senate begins hearings over President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. Puzder’s hearing with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions was originally scheduled for next Tuesday, but could be delayed until February, according to CNBC.

Puzder has become a lightning rod in the debate over minimum wage increases, overtime regulations and the Affordable Care Act, as the country transitions from President Barack Obama to President-elect Donald Trump.

A number of states have increased their minimum wages, and Democrats have pushed for an increase in the federal minimum wage, driven in part by labor groups demanding higher pay for restaurant workers. Expanded overtime regulations and the Affordable Care Act also affected restaurants considerably, helping drive up labor costs.

Puzder’s nomination as labor secretary seemingly signaled Trump’s intent to change all that. Puzder has been a vocal critic of minimum wage increases, overtime regulations and the employer health coverage requirement in the ACA. He has written numerous columns for various publications and has appeared on television news programs several times to voice these opinions.

That position has led to his nomination as labor secretary, and labor groups pushing for higher wages and benefits are targeting Puzder.

“It borders on surreal to imagine Andrew Puzder as the U.S. Secretary of Labor,” Sriram Madhusoodanan, director of the Value the Meal campaign, with the activist group Corporate Accountability International.

Quick-service workers, organized by the union-backed Fight for $15 movement, were set to protest at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, as well as the company’s corporate offices in Carpinteria, Calif., on Thursday.

Restaurant Opportunities Center, or ROC, a group that has been pushing for higher wages for restaurant employees, surveyed a number of CKE restaurant workers who reached out to the group.

ROC said a majority of surveyed women had experienced unwanted sexual behaviors at work, and that the total surveyed group reported working off the clock, wage theft and preparing food while sick.

Labor groups also said that CKE has a record of lawsuits claiming the company failed to pay overtime and accusing the operator of firing workers who protested the company.

On the other hand, restaurant industry executives and business groups have been excited about having Puzder as head of labor, hoping that he will ease some of their labor concerns.

“I’m excited a restaurant CEO might be head of labor,” Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc. CEO Cheryl Bachelder said during the ICR Conference this week. “He’s smart. He’s pragmatic. He’s got a plan in mind to keep job creation rolling.”

On Thursday, the Employment Policies Institute, a research organization that receives funding from restaurants among other groups, responded with its own survey supporting Puzder. The survey found which 92 percent of CKE workers said they “feel safe and respected in this working environment”

Puzder has been active with the IFA, and is currently a member of its board of directors.

The IFA hit hard against labor activist groups, calling them “union front organizations” organizing a “smear campaign.”

“It is unfortunate to see unions spending more of their members’ hard-earned money in a deliberate smear campaign against an individual and franchise organization with a stellar record of creating opportunities for advancement, providing a safe work environment for employees and customers,” IFA senior vice president of public affairs Matt Haller said in a statement.

He called the organizations “PR stunts,” and said that most of the protesters are paid union activists.

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Correction, Jan. 17, 2017: A previous version of this story did not give proper credit for a survey of CKE Restaurants workers in support of Andrew Puzder. 

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