November 24, 2017
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Why as a small-business owner I am opposed to Trump’s labor nominee

By Laura O’Meara, Special to the BDN
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

As small-business owners in Portland, my husband and I are appalled that President Donald Trump has nominated Andrew Puzder, a millionaire fast food CEO, to lead the U.S. Department of Labor. Puzder’s record shows a disregard not just for workers, but also all small-business owners and responsible employers who believe in safe, fair workplaces.

We have owned a small, independent bookstore with two locations in Maine since 1987. Our staff includes amazing full-time employees who have worked for us from seven to 29 years. We have always operated our business with the knowledge that our success was dependent on the dedication and motivation of our employees. Unlike Puzder, we treat our employees fairly with dignity and respect.

Small business and communities benefit from the key workplace protections that Puzder has attacked. Puzder opposes meaningful raises to the minimum wage, arguing it would be harmful to employers. As a small business, our experience matches what the data nationally and in Maine say — paying fair wages boosts business by increasing employee well-being and reducing employee turnover. So we heartily supported raising the minimum wage, first in Portland and then across Maine.

We’ve always paid our employees at rates well above the minimum, and that has allowed us to attract and retain quality employees. We are proof that paying employees a fair wage leads to worker retention and the success of a business. And a fair minimum wage enables workers to frequent local small businesses, which in turn contributes to the success of the community.

For a CEO of a large corporation like Puzder to argue that he cannot afford health insurance and benefits for his workers is outrageous. Even a small business like ours provides health insurance and benefits for all of our full-time staff because it’s common sense — healthy employees contribute to a healthy and thriving business.

When employers like Puzder take the low road, paying poverty-level wages and denying benefits to their employees, good employers struggle to keep up with these radical cost-cutting measures that put profits before people.

We cannot trust Puzder to hold bad employers accountable and to look out for workers and good employers. His restaurants have been repeatedly named in class action lawsuits alleging failure to pay his managers overtime, and his restaurants been found to have repeatedly violated workplace safety laws. The secretary of labor is supposed to enforce laws that ensure workers’ safety and well-being, not break them.

As a woman, I’m also appalled that Trump has nominated someone who seems to share his attitudes toward women. Puzder exploits women for profit — under his leadership, the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s ads were based on sexist and hypersexualized portrayals of women. He’s even said he’s proud of these offensive ads: “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” he said, adding, “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.”

What kind of message does this send to the people who work in his restaurants and the people who patronize them?

A recent report shows that 66 percent of women working in Puzder’s restaurants reported unwanted sexual harassment from manager, coworkers and customers. His companies have been subject to numerous sexual harassment and sex discrimination lawsuits. With this track record, how can we trust Puzder, as secretary of labor, to protect workers and hold employers accountable?

Puzder says he’s on the side of workers and ordinary Americans, but his actions and positions only benefit corporate elites and big business. I strongly urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who both have track records of supporting small business, to reject the nomination of this anti-labor nominee.

Laura O’Meara co-owns Casablanca Comics in Windham and Portland with her husband, Rick Lowell.

 


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