Trump’s Choice for Labor Is Under Fire From the Left – and the Right
Policy + Politics

Trump’s Choice for Labor Is Under Fire From the Left – and the Right

REUTERS/Mike Segar

There’s an early Chris Rock routine in which the young comic asks, “Do you know what it means when someone pays you the minimum wage?”

It means, he says, your boss is trying to tell you “Hey, if I could pay you less I would, but it’s against the law.”

That’s probably not a favorite of Andrew Puzder, the CEO of fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s who is president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary. Puzder, a relentless critic of the minimum wage, was described in a Trump transition team statement as having “an extensive record of fighting for workers.”

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But Pudzer is drawing fire from both the left and the right, which for different reasons view him as an anathema to the American worker.

Pudzer has said he is not “rationally” opposed to raising the minimum wage, but as he told Maria Bartiromo of Fox’s Mornings with Maria, “I’ve been opposed to minimum wage increases that kill jobs, and a lot of these state increases are to that level that they would kill jobs.”

He has also extolled the virtues of robots, telling Business Insider that they “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.”

The New York Times quotes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as calling Pudzer “a man whose business record is defined as fighting against working people.” But early in his career as a lawyer in St. Louis, according to the bio on his company’s website, Pudzer worked with Morris Shenker, who represented Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters and other big unions.

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The right-wing news site Breitbart, which was headed by Steve Bannon before he became Trump’s campaign chief and now senior adviser, is attacking the Puzder nomination because it sees him as soft on immigration.

A story yesterday called him “a strong supporter of increased immigration, which provides his companies with a fresh supply of cheap workers — plus additional customers.” A second Breitbart story relied on past quotes from Puzder to make the case that he prefers foreign workers to American born labor and supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In an op-ed for Politico in 2013, Puzder wrote, “There are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in our country. Many have families, homes, jobs and children who are American citizens. We simply are not going to take them from their homes, put them in prisons, load them on buses and take them back over the border. Nor will we enact draconian measures that drive them from their homes or their jobs and force them to ‘self-deport.’ As a nation, we lack both the will and the resources to implement such policies.”

Puzder, who was an economic adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012, has also been involved with The Partnership for a New American Economy, which seeks “to raise awareness of the economic benefits of sensible immigration reform,” according to its website. Prominent members include Mike Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who was under consideration to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate.

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Trump has flip-flopped on the minimum wage, and perhaps the selection of Puzder indicates that he has made up his mind. But he has not wavered on amnesty for illegal immigrants, and Pudzer has been pretty clear in his support of an immigration solution that leaves most of the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. right where they are.

The Times says Pudzer and his wife gave more than $300,000 to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.

The views Pudzer holds may reflect his personal philosophy, but they are certainly in line with the goals of the major investors in CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. CKE was controlled by Apollo Management, a private-equity firm, until 2013 and now is one of a number of fast-food companies in the portfolio of Atlanta-based private-equity firm Roark Capital Group.

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Besides Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Roark’s $6 billion portfolio includes Arby’s, Cinnabon, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Carvel Ice Cream. For private equity firms such as Roark, with a huge position in fast food, keeping a lid on wages is one way to extract value from the companies they control. That’s why minimum wage hikes are not good for business and the low-cost foreign labor is.

Michael Haller, a spokesperson for the International Franchise Association, told The Times that Pudzer (who is a board member of the trade group) loves the novels of the libertarian and up-by-your-own-bootstraps writer Ayn Rand.

Roark Capital, in an extensive explanation, says it is named after Howard Roark, the principled protagonist of Rand’s most famous work, The Fountainhead.  It might be describing Pudzer when it says its goal is to invest in outstanding companies and work with “operating executives” who refuse to “succumb to conventional wisdom.”