December 18, 2017
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Americans deserve a labor secretary who respects workers and women

By Eliza Townsend, Special to the BDN
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

Andrew Puzder is a flawed nominee for the secretary of labor. The mission of the U.S. Department of Labor is “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.”

As the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Puzder had direct oversight over a company that was found to be in violation of Department of Labor worker protections in 60 percent of the cases for which they were investigated. This is in addition to nearly 100 safety violations, some of which inspectors called life-threatening.

This callous disregard for the health and safety of his employees should be enough to disqualify Puzder for the position to which he has been nominated, but there are other reasons he is not fit to hold such an important job.

For example, Puzder has said machines are “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.” A man with such callous contempt for working people is quite clearly not going to be seeking to improve their working conditions as the secretary of labor.

Puzder also has staunchly and consistently opposed measures to increase the minimum wage and to ensure that workers can earn paid sick days. Opposition to such common-sense proposals is clearly at odds with advancing wage earners’ opportunities for profitable employment.

The need for a higher minimum wage is self-evident, and Mainers strongly supported a steady increase in last fall’s election. What a disappointment to find that the potential future secretary of labor opposes such measures.

Further, Puzder’s opposition to paid sick days poses a threat to the well-being of Maine workers as well as to the patrons and clients who come in contact with them. The workers least likely to be allowed paid sick days are those in retail, the food and restaurant industry, and those who care for our children and our seniors. These are people whose hourly wage is already inadequate; when they cannot take a paid day off to get better when they have the flu, they are likely to go to work sick, spreading the illness. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that sick restaurant workers contaminating food while they are at work causes more than 2.5 million cases of foodborne illness each year.

Workers who cannot earn paid sick days may be forced to choose between caring for a sick child and a day’s wages. No parent should have to make that choice. No wonder voters overwhelmingly support paid sick day measures, as demonstrated by the 14 jurisdictions, including three states, that passed their own policies in 2016 alone.

On Jan. 21, millions of American women marched in Washington, D.C., and in localities across the country, including communities across Maine, to speak up for equal rights for all, and for a political environment in which everyone is treated with decency and respect.

How sad, then, to have as nominee to the important role of secretary of labor a man who has used sexually suggestive advertising to sell hamburgers. For example, a July 2016 commercial selling the Carl’s Jr. “Bacon 3-Way Burger” featured three models wearing bikinis cooking and eating sandwiches in a sexually suggestive manner to the strains of Dirt Nasty’s song “Threesome.”

Puzder told Entrepreneur in 2015: “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American. 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.”

The American people deserve a secretary of labor with more respect for working people and for women. The Maine Women’s Lobby calls on Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, to oppose his nomination.

Eliza Townsend is the executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.

 


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