Workers at the shipyard where I work are like most others in Maine. We get up every day, we go to work and we do our best for our co-workers and our employer. We work hard. We just ask that in return we get a fair shake: wages to provide for our family, a safe workplace, rights on the job and a chance to continue to improve our lives. That’s not asking for too much. This is the basic promise of the American dream.
Key to delivering on this promise is a strong Department of Labor. The Department of Labor was created by Congress over 100 years ago, and historically, the secretary of labor has sought to improve the lives of workers, by ensuring that employers deliver fair wages, safe working conditions and ladders of opportunity.
Unfortunately, the current nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, doesn’t share this vision. His track record clearly indicates he has no interest in honoring this mission and advancing the lives of workers. Instead, Puzder, as CEO of CKE Restaurants (owner of the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. chains), has proven that he is more interested in squeezing profits out of workers than in honoring their needs for safe work and decent pay.
Soon, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee will hold a hearing to question Puzder. We join thousands of working people in Maine in urging Susan Collins, our senior senator and a member of the committee, to question him rigorously, and to vote “no” on his confirmation. Collins has a history of taking our concerns seriously, and working on behalf of hard-working families. This Cabinet position is vital to keeping our people healthy and our economy strong.
Among the questions we would pose:
• Puzder has characterized people who work in the fast-food industry as “the best of the worst. … the bottom of the pool.” The Department of Labor is there to protect the workers who are the most vulnerable, and to help them know their rights and stand up to abusive employers. Will he protect these workers, and reach out to help them gain skills and find the ladder up?
• Puzder has been outspoken in his opposition to raising the federal minimum wage from the poverty-level rate of $7.25 an hour. A Bloomberg BNA analysis of Labor Department investigative data found wage violations at nearly 60 percent of Hardees and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, meaning the company purposefully made people work without pay. Can Puzder ensure that he will work to raise wages for millions of workers? What is the justification for not increasing the minimum wage to match increases in costs of things like food at his own restaurants, groceries and housing?
• Many CKE employees are paid so little that they rely on social assistance programs to survive. Why should taxpayers be responsible for making sure full-time workers are able to survive? Wouldn’t it make more sense for employers to pay higher wages, which enable workers to get off social assistance programs and help fuel greater growth in demand for consumer goods?
• Puzder has criticized the concept of requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, saying it would be an undue burden on businesses. The lack of paid sick time gravely affects those who can least afford it. Millions are terrified of losing wages, so they report to work when they’re ill. Would Puzder continue to oppose paid sick leave?
CKE Restaurants has taken a degrading attitude toward women in its advertising, in comments from Pudzer himself and in its restaurants’ workplace conditions. Compared to women in other fields, women working in the restaurant industry are at elevated risk of sexual harassment and unwanted contact. The rate is even higher in CKE restaurants (40 percent in the industry, vs. 66 percent in CKE restaurants). Do we have any reason to believe that Andrew Pudzer would advance the Department of Labor’s goal of ensuring a safe and non-discriminatory workplace? The Department of Labor is vitally important to workers in this country, and the labor secretary plays a critical role in making sure that it’s strong and proactive. We urge Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King to stand with working families in Maine and vote “no” on Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor.
Ryan Jones chairs the Legislative Committee of Machinists Local S-6, the largest union at Bath Iron Works. He has worked for the past 15 years as a machinist at BIW.