Trump’s Labor Dept. pick is wrong for the job: Guest commentary

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Blanca Rosell-López, a 52-year-old grandmother, earns $11 per hour despite having worked at the same California Carl’s Jr. for nine years. Rosell-López sleeps in the living room of an overcrowded, two-bedroom apartment with four other people. To make ends meet, she works a second job at Burger King.

In an affront to the millions of working Americans like Rosell-López, who often have their wages stolen by their employers, President Donald Trump wants the man at the helm of Carl’s Jr. to lead the U.S. Department of Labor, the nation’s primary watchdog for workers.

Like so many of Trump’s other cabinet picks, the nomination of Andrew Puzder goes against Trump’s promises to the American people, including the many hardworking citizens he claimed he’d champion. Puzder, the CEO of CKE restaurants (parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees) is out of step with most Americans’ values, particularly those in the San Gabriel Valley.

Last year, its City Council members voted unanimously to raise Pasadena’s minimum wage, a move in keeping with the views of the nearly 75 percent of Pasadena voters polled in 2015 who supported a $15 minimum wage. In contrast, Puzder is known for his overall hostility toward workers’ rights, belief in the virtues of replacing workers with robots, and opposition to paying workers a decent wage.

Puzder is a long-time opponent of increasing the federal minimum wage, which has remained stagnant at $7.25 since 2009. Yet his annual income ($4.5 million in 2012) is nearly 300 times what a minimum wage worker makes annually. Not surprisingly, Puzder can’t identify with the daily struggles of working families.

Indeed, many fast-food and other low-wage workers aren’t even getting the meager wages they earned. Last year, dozens of Pasadena workers—including many in the fast-food industry—testified before the City Council about horrifying experiences of wage theft, a problem affecting millions of U.S. low-wage workers.

Economists estimate that nationwide, workers lose more than $20 billion annually as a result of wage theft, and a study of three major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, found about a quarter of low-wage workers were paid under the minimum wage.

On Puzder’s watch over 16 years, CKE has been investigated by the Department of Labor many times for wage theft. In 60 percent of the investigations since 2009, CKE restaurants and franchises were found to have violated wage and hour laws.

How can Americans trust someone whose company has been a persistent lawbreaker to enforce our labor laws? Puzder is opposed to the Department of Labor’s core watchdog mission. Rather than hold employers like Carl’s Jr. accountable, ensuring they pay their workers fairly and comply with labor laws, Puzder has called for “government to [get] out of the way,” which he implausibly claims will result in higher wages and prosperity.

Puzder has spoken out against rules that protect workers’ rights and breaks, and workplace health and safety regulations—and against the economic stability and well-being of millions of workers he would be responsible for protecting as secretary of labor.

In Pasadena, more than 22,000 of about 70,000 employed residents earn under $15 an hour. While the fortunes of low-wage workers in Pasadena have improved somewhat thanks to local and state action, it’s essential for all workers that a competent and well-suited individual lead the Department of Labor.

Trump claimed he would promote prosperity for working people. Those who voted for him because of such promises—and those who didn’t—deserve better than a labor secretary who has made his fortune on the backs of their struggles and shows no interest in defending their rights. Congress should vigorously oppose his nomination.

Liz Ben-Ishai, a Pasadena resident, is member of Pasadenans Organizing for Progress and senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a national anti-poverty organization.

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