Why Andy Puzder Shouldn’t Run the Labor Department

The first time I heard of Carl’s Jr. was when I began taking some classes at Santa Monica College in the summer of 1989. The college didn’t have much of a student union, but it did have this little fast-food hamburger joint that wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t too long, though, before some earnest liberal caught me with a Carl’s Jr. burger in my hand and informed me that there was a boycott of their chain because the owner was an extreme homophobe and anti-choicer.

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I also didn’t like taking classes on an empty stomach. I think, for a time, I was more discreet about where I ate my lunch. And then I joined the boycott, which I’ve observed from that time until today.

A few years later, I moved to Michigan and then back to the east coast. On the east coast, Carl’s Jr. is called Hardee’s. I don’t eat there either, although to be fair I don’t eat fast food of any kind. It’s not good for you.

It looks like the old man died in 2008. The CEO of Carl’s Jr. today is a guy named Andy Puzder.

He met up with Karcher around the same time that I was being urged to shun his burgers.

While practicing law in St. Louis, Puzder authored legislation which The United States Supreme Court upheld in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services in 1989. Following the Webster decision Puzder was a founding member of the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice.

Also while practicing law in St. Louis, Puzder met Carl Karcher, the founder of the Carl’s Jr. quick-service restaurant chain. Karcher was embroiled in serious financial difficulties and asked Puzder to move to California as his personal attorney. In 1991, Puzder relocated to Orange County, California. Puzder has been credited with resolving Karcher’s financial dilemma, allowing Karcher to avoid bankruptcy and retain a significant ownership interest in the company he founded, CKE Restaurants, Inc. (CKE).

Actually, the previous year Karcher had been nailed by the SEC for insider trading, so finding an anti-choice lawyer to clean up his mess was a nice two-fer.

Karcher and Puzder were obviously kindred spirits, as Karcher had been the biggest bankroller of the Briggs Initiative, a failed 1978 ballot proposition that “would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California’s public schools.”

Karcher was also involved in the John Birch Society, most notably supporting the political career of John George Schmitz who served Orange County in state legislature and in Congress. In 1972, Schmitz was the American Independent Party’s candidate for president of the United States. Schmitz was so vocal in his opposition to President Nixon’s trip to China that Nixon orchestrated his political defeat.

I mention all this because Donald Trump has just named Andy Puzder as his nominee for Labor Secretary.

Now, Puzder and Trump have a lot in common. For example, Trump is a fan of professional wrestling and just named the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertaining Inc. as his nominee to head the Small Business Administration. Puzder hired Ultimate Fighting champion Ronda Rousey to do advertisements for his restaurant chain.

Trump and Puzder are also famous for making unhinged criticisms of President Obama. For example, Puzder went on the Fox business channel back in 2011 and blamed Obama for the downgrading of America’s credit rating. He also explained that he moved his corporate headquarters from California to Texas because it is a Right-to-Work state.

But to fully appreciate how alike Puzder and Trump are, you need to watch this recent Carl’s Jr. ad which features Mexican and American two-woman volleyball teams playing each other. The volleyball net has been replaced, however, with a “steel-barred border wall.”

Is the ad sexist? Yeah, obviously.

Is it the best way to promote the melding of Mexican and Texan cuisine? Border walls usually inhibit melding, or are supposed to, anyway.

I kind of grow weary of folks who relentlessly promote “family values” in the guise of being pro-life and anti-gay, but then give us advertisements in which women are scantily-clad sex objects.

“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” Puzder told Entrepreneur in 2015. “I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”

My wife took one look at that ad and said, “All I can say is that I’m glad I have sons instead of daughters.”

Of course, most people will focus on Puzder’s unsuitability to be an advocate for Labor in our country since, as Justin Miller at The American Prospect points out, he’s clearly about as anti-Labor as you can be.

In his frequent op-ed and cable news commentaries, Puzder has championed every aspect of right-wing trickle-down economics. Rolling back taxation and regulation for the rich and corporations will lift the economy, he’s argued, as will getting rid of all those minimum-wage hikes.

Last year, the fast-food CEO made more in one day ($17,192) than one of his full-time minimum wage workers would make in a year ($15,130), according to TalkPoverty. Yet Puzder opposes any increase to the minimum wage, believes that workers are kept in poverty because of government assistance programs, and thinks expanding access to overtime pay would diminish the prestige of entry-level management jobs.

Here’s what Puzder said about his preference for automation over human employees:

“They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” says Puzder of swapping employees for machines.

Overall, he’s about as far from an advocate for the working man and woman as you can get.

Puzder even attacked working-class Americans during an appearance on Fox & Friends, claiming that low-income workers might be wary of higher paying jobs if the salary increase results in a loss of government benefits. Puzder wrote in an op-ed in The Hill of a so-called “Welfare Cliff,” where employees turn down promotions that could lead to $80,000 salaries because they “don’t want to lose the free stuff from the government.” Yet, by Puzder’s own admission, the company he runs does not pay anywhere near the $80,000 annual salary that his employees were supposedly passing up so as to qualify for anti-poverty assistance.

Before I go any further, I just want to share the Department of Labor’s mission statement:

Our Mission

To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

Now, it’s understandable that Trump has made this nomination. He obviously wanted to reward Puzder because Puzder was shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee, at a time when Republican donors were shunning him and the Republican National Committee.

But if you can find any evidence that Puzder will approach his job as head of the Department of Labor with anything but the most dedicated opposition to the department’s stated mission, I’d love to see it.

You can oppose nominees because they’re crooked or because they’re unqualified. But you can also oppose them because you know that they won’t do the job they’re supposed to do.

I can’t see how any Democrat could vote to confirm this man for this job.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.