BREAKING—Andrew Puzder, Trump’s Pick for Labor Secretary, Is Out

Bruce Vail

A lobbying effort aimed at convincing Republican Party senators to oppose Puzder was in full swing for the last week, including demonstrations Monday in more than 20 cities. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

With a key Sen­ate hear­ing loom­ing, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nee for Labor Sec­re­tary with­drew his name from con­sid­er­a­tion Wednes­day, back­ing down just as Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers and labor activists were unleash­ing their strongest attacks yet against ham­burg­er chain exec­u­tive Andrew Puzder.

Puzder decid­ed to with­draw his nom­i­na­tion as the new chief of the largest fed­er­al labor agency as oppo­si­tion spread from tra­di­tion­al pro-labor Democ­rats to include a hand­ful of con­ser­v­a­tive Republicans.

From the very start of the nom­i­na­tion process, it was clear that fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder was unfit to lead the U.S. Depart­ment of Labor. Thanks to fierce oppo­si­tion from a diverse group of Amer­i­cans, includ­ing peo­ple deeply con­cerned about the treat­ment of work­ers and of women, enough sen­a­tors came to the same real­iza­tion, forc­ing Mr. Puzder’s with­draw­al from the nom­i­na­tion,” said Chris­tine Owens, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Nation­al Employ­ment Law Project.

It’s the first vic­to­ry for Sen­ate Democ­rats in oppo­si­tion to Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial Cab­i­net picks, despite well-orga­nized cam­paigns against high­er-pro­file nom­i­nees such as Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions and Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion Bet­sy DeVos. Nev­er­the­less, a lob­by­ing effort aimed at con­vinc­ing Repub­li­can Par­ty sen­a­tors to oppose Puzder was in full swing for the last week, includ­ing demon­stra­tions Mon­day in more than 20 cities.

The focus of the oppo­si­tion was on Puzder’s tenure as chief exec­u­tive of CKE Restau­rants, own­er of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. ham­burg­er chains. Owens says CKE has a ter­ri­ble record” of wage law vio­la­tions and employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints that dis­qual­i­fied Puzder from high gov­ern­ment office. And Kendall Fells, orga­niz­ing direc­tor for the Fight for 15 cam­paign, said it would hard to imag­ine him even get­ting the nom­i­na­tion,” if there had been a seri­ous exam­i­na­tion of the exten­sive record of labor com­plaints against CKE beforehand.

On Mon­day, pro­tes­tors orga­nized by Fight for 15 descend­ed on CKE cor­po­rate offices in St. Louis, Mis­souri, and Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia, and at some two dozen fast-food sites nation­wide, Fells said. The demon­stra­tions helped draw atten­tion to Puzder’s shortcomings.

But the anti-Puzder forces relied on a sec­ond lev­el of crit­i­cism to cause a hand­ful of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors to join Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­si­tion, accord­ing to Fells. As part of the reg­u­lar finan­cial dis­clo­sure require­ments for Cab­i­net nom­i­nees, Puzder revealed last week that he had employed an undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant as a ser­vant and failed to pay tax­es as required by law. While his tenure at CKE may be viewed as unob­jec­tion­able by ultra-right con­ser­v­a­tives, Fells said, Puzder’s dis­clo­sure showed that he is also a labor scofflaw in his per­son­al life.

Aubrey Rejon, a for­mer cashier at a Carl’s Jr. restau­rant in Whit­ti­er, Cal­i­for­nia, tells In These Times that she has been incensed by Puzder’s law­less­ness — and by the will­ing­ness of Trump and oth­er Repub­li­cans to excuse it. It seems like they’ll just let any­body,” assume gov­ern­ment office, even though they are admit­ted law­break­ers, she said this week, before news broke that Puzder would withdraw.

Rejon protest­ed with about 200 oth­ers at the CKE offices in Ana­heim on Mon­day and said she hopes the action will alert the pub­lic to the need for a high­er min­i­mum wage nationally.

I was hired at $10 an hour and stayed that way,” she says. Work­ing con­di­tions were atrocious.”

Owens, of the Nation­al Employ­ment Labor Project, said that the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing before the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor and Pen­sions orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled for Thurs­day was expect­ed to pro­vide a dra­mat­ic con­fronta­tion between Puzder and his crit­ics. Sen. Pat­ty Mur­ray (D‑Washington) was to take the lead in ques­tion­ing Puzder, Owens says, backed up by Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑Massachusetts), who released a blis­ter­ing 28-page let­ter ear­li­er this week lay­ing out the case against Puzder. The hear­ing has since been canceled.

Fur­ther dra­ma came in the form of a video­tape of an appear­ance by Puzder’s for­mer wife on Oprah Winfrey’s tele­vi­sion show. The 27-year-old tape shows Lisa Fier­stein recount­ing charges of spousal abuse dur­ing the mar­riage. Although Fier­stein long ago with­drew the charges, copies of the tape have recent­ly sur­faced and been viewed by some of the sen­a­tors on the com­mit­tee, accord­ing to press reports.

The with­draw­al of Andrew Puzder’s nom­i­na­tion is great news for every­one who wants an Amer­i­ca where wages rise, ben­e­fits are strong and unions are grow­ing,” said Richard Trum­ka, pres­i­dent of the AFL-CIO. It’s a reminder of the col­lec­tive pow­er of work­ing peo­ple and a clear mes­sage to Pres­i­dent Trump that it’s time to change course com­plete­ly, not dou­ble down.”

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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