CKE Workers Oppose their Boss’s Nomination as Secretary of Labor

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

Stolen wages. Sexual harassment. Unpaid overtime. Meal breaks denied. Workers at CKE Restaurants say they’ve endured these and other violations under CEO Andrew Puzder, the current nominee for secretary of labor. Two recent events on Capitol Hill made strong cases for why Puzder is the wrong choice to lead the department that protects workers’ rights.

At a briefing with Democrats from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) shared findings from an investigation into labor practices at Puzder’s company. ROC surveyed over 500 CKE employees, including workers at fast-food chains such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. More than one in four respondents said they’ve been forced to work off the clock without pay. And because most CKE employees do not receive paid sick days, nearly four out of five respondents reported preparing or serving food while sick. At the event, Roberto Ramirez, an employee of Carl’s Jr. for 18 years, attested to working off the clock for the first 30 minutes of every shift, as well as having to clock out for meal breaks but work straight through them. Speaking through an interpreter, Ramirez said: “If Andrew Puzder is chosen [as Secretary of Labor], what happened to me will be multiplied to workers nationwide. We need to be valued at our workplace. We can’t let people like [Puzder] step all over us.”

The same afternoon, 17 Senators led by Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray raised concerns at a public forum. Laura McDonald, a CKE employee for more than 20 years, testified there that she and other CKE general managers often worked for free to avoid being disciplined or fired for going over their allotted labor budget. The company also kept many workers involuntarily part time. “In order to avoid paying health care,” McDonald attested, “CKE puts a strict limit on the number of full-time workers we hire.” Moreover, full-time positions still don’t pay enough for workers to escape poverty. Lupe Guzman, a single mother who has been with the company for seven years, works full time during the graveyard shift for $8.75 per hour. She relies on Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and housing assistance just to avoid homelessness.

Workers deserve a secretary of labor who they know is on their side. That’s why it’s so concerning that Andrew Puzder rejects laws and regulations that the Department of Labor (DOL) is tasked with enforcing. He has opposed raising the minimum wage. He has opposed raising income for millions of workers by making them eligible for overtime pay. He has opposed the Affordable Care Act, particularly its requirement that employers offer full-time employees health care. Puzder has even spoken out against Medicaid, SNAP, and housing assistance, which essentially subsidize his low-wage company.

DOL’s mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of wage earners…improve working conditions…and assure work-related benefits and rights.” With Puzder at the helm, the department is unlikely to fulfill this promise. CKE has a record of running roughshod over its employees, and Andrew Puzder has a troubling history of opposing critical labor standards. We feel strongly that the Senate should deny his confirmation.