Op-Ed, 521 words

If You Work, This Appointment Matters to You

The man Donald Trump picked to protect workers' rights is a serial violator of them.

wendy-c-wolf

Fast food CEO Andrew Puzder was recently tapped by Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor.

It’s easy enough to think of the Department of Labor as just another distant bureaucracy shuffling paperwork around in Washington. At any given time, in fact, most Americans probably couldn’t tell you who the secretary of labor is.

But the decisions made by the labor secretary directly impact tens of millions of Americans. In fact, the Department of Labor enforces vital federal workplace regulations that protect over 125 million workers in this country.

If you like receiving overtime pay, working in an environment free of asbestos and mold, or even being allowed to take a bathroom break during work, you have the Department of Labor to thank. Those basic workplace standards only exist because the government forces businesses to treat workers fairly.

Too many companies toe the line already when it comes to workplace protections. And if the secretary of labor won’t enforce the laws, then you can bet that many employers won’t hesitate to take advantage of their workers.

You might ask: What kind of heartless business owner would force his employees to work in unsafe conditions and refuse to properly compensate them? Well, Puzder would.

andrew-puzder

Andrew Puzder (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

The trouble is, Puzder is exactly who Donald Trump picked to enforce those laws.

Puzder’s employees have repeatedly had to file class-action lawsuits against his companies alleging unpaid overtime. Between 2006 and 2014, his companies were forced to spend over $20 million on overtime lawsuits in California.

Unsurprisingly, then, Puzder is no stranger to the department he’s been picked to lead.

Over the years, the Department of Labor has opened several investigations into Puzder’s businesses, finding his companies in violation of the law in 60 percent of cases involving wage or overtime issues.

His companies were found guilty of workplace safety violations almost as often — a significant number of which were labeled “serious,” which means they could’ve significantly harmed or killed a worker.

Puzder’s tenure as CEO of CKE Restaurants has also been marked by consistent charges of sexism, most notably in commercials that use scantily clad women to sell cheeseburgers. Puzder’s response to the criticism? “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”

His personal views of women matter, because as secretary of labor he’d oversee the bureau’s women’s division, which works to eliminate sex discrimination and equal pay. If Puzder’s attitude keeps him from enforcing these workplace protections, then tens of millions of women around the country will suffer.

I’ve worked for decades to improve the lives of children, families, and communities, and I know how important workplace protections are — not just for employees, but for everyone else in their lives as well. Trump’s selection of Puzder will cost millions of American workers, including many Trump supporters, dearly.

A man who doesn’t care if his employees work in a safe environment or are paid fairly simply can’t be allowed to become the primary defender of the American worker.

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Wendy C. Wolf founded and ran the Center for Assessment and Policy Development. She’s a member of the Patriotic Millionaires and is on the board of the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet. Distributed by OtherWords.org.