Reported Donald Trump labor pick Andrew Puzder has troubling record on wages and women

ByJames Dennin

Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which operates chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr., is likely to be President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of the Department of Labor, sources told the Wall Street Journal in a report Thursday.

Labor activists and feminists have cause to scrutinize Puzder's record: He has a history of opposing minimum wage hikes, and his tenure at CKE is marred by labor violations — a common issue in the fast food industry — as well as allegations of overtly sexist advertising.

That might worry progressives, given that the responsibilities of the labor department include enforcing laws preventing sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as protecting workers' wages nationwide.

Indeed, for those fighting to raise the national minimum wage, Puzder's ascent up the shortlist arguably couldn't have come at a worse time.

Last Tuesday, thousands of "Fight for $15" protestors took to the streets in 340 cities, including Chicago and New York City, to battle for a higher minimum wage, mostly at the state level

Kendall Fells, the organization's national director said in a phone interview that, while cities like Seattle and states like New York have pushed through a $15 minimum wage on a local basis, many workers are still struggling because of a federal minimum wage that has sat at $7.25 an hour since 2007.

Here are three key facts you should know about Puzder.

Puzder defended his company's notoriously sexist ads as "American."

Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are well known for advertisements featuring bikini-clad models, ads that have been criticized for sexism time and again. According to a study conducted by Ameritest, one Hardee's ad was found to have offended more than half of the people who watched it, Ad Age reported.

Puzder has waived away accusations that the ads promote sexist, hyper-sexualized depictions of women: "I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American," Puzder told Entrepreneur. "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."

Puzder told Entrepreneur that offending people was actually the point in his eyes, saying, "If [people] don't complain, I go to the head of marketing and say, 'What's wrong with our ads?'"

Sexist advertising has been shown to have detrimental effects on men and women alike: In women, it's been linked to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. And in men, studies have found exposure to such ads encourages hyper-masculine attitudes that have been linked to dangerous driving and even violence against women. 

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wrote and directed Don Jon — a 2013 film about pornography's effect on relationships — even included a scene in the movie in which a Carl's Jr. ad plays in its entirety in the background of a family dinner. His point, he said in an interview with NPR, was that you don't need to watch porn to internalize the idea of women as sex objects.

"Whether it's rated X or 'approved by the FCC for general viewing audiences,' the message is the same," he said. "We have a tendency in our culture to take people and treat them like things."

The Department of Labor has responsibilities that make the overt sexism of Puzder's ads a concern: The department is in charge of enforcing discrimination laws among federal contractors as well as any agency or business that receives assistance from the federal government. 

Puzder would also oversee the Women's Bureau, an agency within the Labor Department established in 1920, which is the only federal agency with a mandate to represent the needs of working women in the creation and implementation of public policy.

Many of Puzder's Hardee's and Carl's Jr. restaurants have violated the wage and hours laws he would have to enforce.

Labor advocates have even more reason to be concerned about Puzder. 

"Puzder as labor secretary is like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the Treasury," the Fight for $15's Fells told the American Prospect, referring to the disgraced financier who is currently serving a 150-year prison sentence for executing what may have been the largest fraud case in U.S. history.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in an email to Mic that it was "hard to think of anyone less suited for the job." 

Their concern partly stems from the fact that CKE chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have had a poor record of obeying wage laws, which is a common problem among fast food retailers.

When the current Department of Labor conducted more than 4,000 investigations into the 20 largest fast food brands, more than half of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants investigated were found to have at least one wage and hours violation.

And in a disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company also admitted that it's currently the subject of "several potential class action lawsuits," the "most significant" of which relates to meal and rest breaks, wages and hours disputes. 

Puzder is on the record opposing minimum wage and overtime expansion — and complaining about workers' lunch breaks.  

Puzder has often used his platform to rail against worker protections and he has suggested that he'd like to try to replace workers with robots at future restaurant locations.

In 2014, he took to Forbes to blast the first change in overtime laws in 39 years, complaining that the new rule would remove the incentive for managers to log long hours. He has even complained about meal and rest break requirements in California, where employees are required to get a 30-minute break every five hours. 

Puzder has also voiced opposition to raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, arguing that doing so will lead to job losses — and defending the status quo because "only about 15% of minimum wage earners" are "breadwinners trying to support a family."

But studies suggest that far more people are being forced to live on the minimum wage than previously thought. A study from Oxfam and the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 60 million Americans are supported by low-income workers. 

And research has consistently disputed the notion that incremental increases to the minimum wage kills jobs. Jacob Vidgor, an economist commissioned to study Seattle's minimum wage hike, found "pretty close to zero" impact on overall employment, although he also noted in a conversation with Mic that Seattle was already a pretty high-wage city with a booming economy.

"We asked a few hundred employers in Seattle [how they were preparing], and the most common response that we got was that they might raise their prices a little bit," Vidgor said. "The first thing you're going to try is just making little tweaks."

Many workers feel that the minimum wage is far too low, since it hasn't been updated since 2007 — and is estimated to be roughly one-third below what it was in the late 1960s, after adjusting for inflation.

The MIT Living Wage Project estimates what you'd need to make in order to get by in every U.S. county and metropolitan area: In New York City, for example, a single-income family with one child needs to make nearly triple the minimum wage to support themselves. 

Sumer Spika, a home care worker who said she was arrested in Minneapolis during Tuesday's Fight for $15 protests, said her recent union membership was her "only hope" at earning a livable wage.

"I work 70 hours a week and I'm barely able to pay my bills," Spika said in a phone interview. "I often find myself having to juggle things because the wages are so low and there are no benefits."

Like others in Trump's Cabinet, Puzder is reportedly a millionaire — and likely earns more in one day than one of his full-time minimum wage workers makes in a year.

Representatives from CKE Restaurants declined to comment. 

December 8, 2016, 11:00 a.m.: This story has been updated.