President Trump’s labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder is in more hot water with labor groups and has had his confirmation hearing delayed for the third time.
Fast food worker advocacy group Fight for $15 announced Thursday that its workers have filed 33 complaints this month with the Labor Department and various state labor boards against Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s franchisees. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are operated by CKE Restaurants, where Puzder has been CEO since 2000.
The complaints include wage and hour violations, charges of sexual harassment, and allegations of unfair labor practices.
Like many of Trump’s appointees, Puzder’s ideological stance runs counter to the department he has been tapped to oversee. Labor advocates view him as anti-labor and anti-union, and have accused him of a laundry list of offenses including underpaying workers and not offering them benefits. He has said fast food workers are “the best of the worst” in the labor market and that robots might be preferable replacements because they “never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case."
Puzder is also opposed to large increases in the federal minimum wage, telling the Wall Street Journal in December he opposes anything above $9 an hour from the current $7.25.
The union-backed Fight for $15 group wants a federal minimum of $15.
In a conference call arranged by Fight for $15 Thursday, workers from Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. spoke about some of the alleged labor violations. Twenty-eight-year-old Caetana Cardona of Tampa, described fending off unwanted advances from a manager at a Hardee’s while she was two months pregnant in 2015. As a reprisal, Cardona says she had shifts changed to hours that left her unable to provide care to her other children at home. “[Hardee’s] did not value me as a human being,” she said.
Another worker, Ivan Nava, 24, of Los Angeles, talked of being pressured to work through shifts at a Carl’s Jr., despite on-the-job injuries that included burns from hot oil and bruises from falls.
Fight for $15 has been orchestrating nationwide protests against CKE Restaurants in recent days.
A spokesperson for CKE Restaurants would not comment on the complaints, but highlighted that franchisees are individually responsible for adhering to proper labor practices. “Each of these 2,769 franchise stores are run independently and solely responsible for their employees, management and adherence to regulations and labor practices,” the spokesperson said.
In recent years, the issue of whether a corporate franchisor like CKE Restaurants can be held accountable in suits against franchisees has taken center stage. While franchisees have traditionally been seen as independent, a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in 2015 held corporate parent companies responsible for their franchisees’ labor practices.
Sixty percent of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants had at least one Fair Labor Standards Act violation, and combined they are the fourth-worst offenders in the restaurant industry, according to one report. CKE has also reportedly paid millions of dollars to settle class action suits that accused it of wage theft.
Puzder’s treatment of women has also been questioned, related in part to widely criticized ads that feature scantily clad female celebrities eating hamburgers. In a 2011 press release, he said: “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers.” His first wife reportedly accused him of domestic abuse, a charge he has denied.
Puzder’s confirmation hearing was also delayed for a third time Thursday, with a new date of Feb. 7. His initial hearings were scheduled for Jan. 12, Jan. 17, and Feb. 2. While earlier delays were due to scheduling changes from the Senate, the Washington Post reports that the latest delays are because Puzder needs more time to submit the necessary paperwork.