Fast-Food Workers Oppose New Secretary of Labor Nominee

Fast-food workers in L.A. on Thursday protest against restaurant-chain mogul Andrew Puzder, who has been tapped as President Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary.
Fast-food workers in L.A. on Thursday protest against restaurant-chain mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped by President Trump for labor secretary.

Andrew Puzder, who President Trump has nominated as our next Labor secretary, presides over a fast-food empire. Yet as he awaits his Senate confirmation hearings, current and former workers of CKE Restaurants — which operates chains like Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s — are filing a multiple lawsuits alleging employment-law violations at his company.

Ceatana Cardona reports being sexually harassed by a shift manager while she worked nights at a Hardee’s in Tampa, Fla. “When I was one-and-a-half months pregnant with my youngest child, he asked me for a kiss. I refused and began to walk away, but he grabbed me by the collar and, inches from my face, said, ‘If you don’t give me what I want, I’m going to start taking it from you,” Cardona says.

Cardona reported the incident to another supervisor, and as a result she got fewer, less desirable hours. She eventually quit the job.

Cardona is now filing a sexual harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C. This puts her in the company of 33 other workers who’ve filed complaints so far this year detailing allegations of wage theft, harassment and discrimination at CKE Restaurants and its franchises. Cardona ultimately blames Puzder.

“I’m holding him accountable for the harassment I experienced,” she says.

But the industry stands behind the new Labor secretary.

Puzder joined CKE Restaurants in the 1990s and helped guide the company through difficult financial times. He stepped up to the position of CEO in 2000. In a statement, the National Restaurant Association came to the defense of Puzder’s business record by alleging that unions championing the workers are misrepresenting his record. The trade association cited a recent survey showing 92% of employees at CKE called it a “good place to work.”

But the nominee has other issues and critics to contend with, particularly on account of his outspoken objection to raising the minimum wage, his support for automation in the workplace, and his company’s record with regulators. Washington Democrat Patty Murray, the ranking member of the Senate committee holding Puzder’s hearing, criticized him for not submitting required paperwork.

Cathy Ruckelshaus, litigation director for the National Employment Law Project, claims that in the past 10 years, over half of the investigations into CKE’s labor and workplace safety practices have cited violations.

“The U.S. Senate has all the reason it needs to reject this nomination and demand a labor secretary who will look out for working Americans, instead of one who looks for ways to keep them down,” Ruckelshaus says.

CKE Restaurants has not yet responded to reporters’ requests for comment.

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Emery Reddy