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Labor groups heighten campaign against Andy Puzder’s nomination as secretary of labor

Andy Puzder protesters rally outside of Bannister Road Hardee's

Fast-food employees and labor activists rallied Thursday at a Kansas City Hardee's restaurant, 5615 E. Bannister. They're continuing protests against President Donald Trump's nomination of fast-food mogul Andy Puzder as secretary of labor. Puzder,
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Fast-food employees and labor activists rallied Thursday at a Kansas City Hardee's restaurant, 5615 E. Bannister. They're continuing protests against President Donald Trump's nomination of fast-food mogul Andy Puzder as secretary of labor. Puzder,

Fast-food workers and groups supporting workers’ rights staged protests in U.S. cities and held a national conference call Thursday to denounce working conditions at restaurants affiliated with President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor.

Workers from Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. leveled public criticism at Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of the two chains.

Kendall Fells, an organizing director with the Fight for $15 labor movement, said workers this week filed 33 separate complaints against Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. operators for wage and hour violations, sexual harassment, and other unfair labor practices, including illegal surveillance and intimidation of workers who protested against the companies.

Thursday marked the second mass rallies against the appointment held this month in Kansas City and elsewhere. At Kansas City’s latest event, protesters met for a lunchtime rally in front of a Hardee’s at 5615 E. Bannister Road.

The U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled a Feb. 7 hearing on Puzder’s nomination.

Committee chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in a news release that “Mr. Puzder is a respected Tennessee business leader who understands how excessive regulation can destroy jobs and make it harder for family incomes to rise.”

Workers countered that low pay and lack of benefits at Puzder’s restaurants cause employees to rely on billions of dollars in taxpayer support.

The National Employment Law Project earlier this week pegged that taxpayer subsidy at $247 million a year. That figure was challenged by the Employment Policies Institute, which said the National Employment Law Project overcounted the number of low-paid restaurant workers eligible for public assistance as well as the amount of assistance they received.

National Employment Law Project general counsel Catherine Ruckelshaus said that even if Puzder or CKE isn’t directly charged in the workers’ complaints, he “presides over a fast-food empire that routinely exploits and abuses its workers.”

Ruckelshaus called for a labor secretary “who will look out for working Americans instead of one who looks for ways to keep them down.”

One worker on the conference call particularly criticized a practice of paying employees with a debit card that may require fees to withdraw cash. He said such fees can have the effect of reducing pay below the minimum wage.

The clashes over Puzder’s appointment dovetailed with escalating national disagreements over raising the minimum wage. For example, a group objecting to mandated wage increases introduced Fightfor15.com, a website with content directly counter to Fightfor15.org, the official site of the labor movement.

Meanwhile, the International Franchise Association, which also opposes the Fight for $15 campaign, contended that the movement is motivated by little more than paid union organizers who are trying to beef up organized labor.

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics reported that union membership nationally declined by 0.4 percentage points in 2016 from 2015. It said 10.7 percent of wage and salary workers were union members last year.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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