Trump's Labor Secretary Nominee Faces Critics On Both Sides Of The Aisle

Jan 19, 2017
Originally published on January 19, 2017 10:33 am
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In the business world, Andrew Puzder is known as the man who helped turn around the company that owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast-food chains. Well, now Puzder is President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary. If confirmed, he will influence an array of policies affecting workers, from overtime pay to foreign-worker visas. But for now, Puzder is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Laura McDonald spent two decades working 60-hour weeks managing Carl's Jr. locations in Southern California.

LAURA MCDONALD: The company refused to pay any overtime or even to pay anything to recognize the fact that we always work more than 40 hours each week.

NOGUCHI: Now she is speaking out against Puzder, the veteran CEO of CKE Restaurants.

MCDONALD: He never protected the employees at CKE when he was in charge. So I don't think he would be the person to protect American workers' rights.

NOGUCHI: Puzder is a Midwesterner and corporate lawyer by training. His nomination comes as the country debates whether to expand overtime pay, whether to increase the federal minimum wage and whether employee benefits should be extended to some contractors. He would also take over a labor department that, under President Obama, aggressively enforced wage and hour laws.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, says Puzder worked hard for his shareholders. Now he hopes to see him apply himself to improving workplace safety and conditions for workers.

MARC PERRONE: If he turns a blind eye to them, they're the ones that are going to pay the price.

NOGUCHI: On policy, Puzder is outspoken, appearing frequently on TV and newspaper opinion pages and co-authoring a book on job creation that's critical of government interference with industry. He criticized fast-food protests calling for $15-an-hour wages, telling Fox Business in November of 2015 that would mean less hiring and more automation, like self-ordering kiosks.

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ANDREW PUZDER: If you price the person behind the counter out of the restaurant, then, you know, you're going to end up with a kiosk because that's the only way these restaurants can stay in business.

NOGUCHI: From the right, some conservative commentators decried Puzder's nomination because of his earlier support for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group calling for reduced immigration.

MARK KRIKORIAN: His earlier views on immigration were diametrically opposed to what Donald Trump himself had been saying on immigration.

NOGUCHI: Since his nomination, Puzder has walked back from some of his earlier comments. But Krikorian says...

KRIKORIAN: I don't know whether to believe it.

NOGUCHI: There are other objections to Puzder's nomination as well. Allegations of repeated domestic violence resurfaced from his 1987 divorce, incidents his ex-wife now disavows, saying she filed those claims to help her divorce. In recent years, his company also faced criticism for its TV ads featuring barely clad models simulating sex acts with food.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...And a full foot of sausage. Open wide.

NOGUCHI: Puzder stood by the ads, speaking on CNN two years ago.

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PUZDER: I don't think there's anything wrong with a beautiful woman in a bikini eating a burger and washing a Bentley or a pickup truck or being in a hot tub.

NOGUCHI: Comments like that prompted Washington Democrat Patty Murray, ranking member of the Senate committee hosting Puzder's confirmation hearing, to question whether he would enforce workplace discrimination laws. That hearing is scheduled to take place February 2.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "NOSTRAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.