Trump’s Labor Nominee Gets Rich on Taxpayer’s Dime


(Photo: AP/Christian Gooden)

Fast-food workers protest outside the Hardee's headquarters in downtown Saint Louis on January 12. 

Burger baron Andy Puzder opposes substantial increases to the minimum wage, objects to paying his managers overtime, and thinks welfare programs prevent his employees from working toward promotions. He really doesn’t think much of his workers—as CNN reported, in a 2011 speech Puzder lamented that his company hires the “best of the worst.” When he took over the CKE Restaurants group, he insisted that there be “no more people behind the counter unless they have all their teeth.”

Trump’s nominee for labor secretary is a leading figure in the parasite economy, one of those employers who get rich by paying their workers a pittance and counting on taxpayers to foot the bill for the necessities those workers can’t afford. And by not paying his workers a living wage or providing affordable health care, Puzder is costing taxpayers about $247 million a year in public assistance funding according to an estimate from the National Employment Law Project. Meanwhile, Puzder makes in a day close to what his minimum-wage workers make in a year.

“I’m turning to food stamps to put dinner on the table to feed my children,” said Lupe Guzman, who has worked at a Las Vegas Carls Jr. for seven years and makes $8.75 an hour. “I don’t want handouts—I want my full-time job to be enough that I can buy food, pay rent, and go to the doctor’s without worrying that it will put us over the edge.”

The NELP estimate is based on a 2013 study by UC Berkeley economists that found that the average public cost of a fast-food worker who relies on public programs—like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, or welfare—is about $3,500 a year, in 2016 dollars. In aggregate, the fast-food industry costs taxpayers $3.8 billion per year. CKE Restaurants controls the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. burger chains, and its franchisees account for about 2,900 restaurants that employ about 73,000 workers—one of the largest fast-food chains in the country.

Puzder is not only a leading opponent of minimum-wage mandates and expanded overtime eligibility. His company and its franchisees have also committed multiple labor law violations and incurred numerous discrimination lawsuits. If confirmed as Labor Secretary, he’ll be in charge of enforcing labor law, particularly in high-violation industries like his own.

And there, his business practices—resisting regulation and suppressing wages—have imposed real costs on American taxpayers. 

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