Abandoning America’s Workers, Starting at the Top

President Trump has nominated Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. owner Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labor for the next four years. Should Congress approve or reject this nomination? A brief look at the functions of the Department of Labor and Puzder’s background supplies the obvious answer: Puzder cannot become the Secretary of Labor.

Congress established the federal Department of Labor in 1912. The legislation that created the Department – which was signed by Republican President William Howard Taft – states that the Department’s purpose is “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” This purpose has remained unchanged for over a hundred years, but Puzder’s hands at the wheel present a unique threat to the department’s mission.

To carry out its Congressionally-mandated tasks, the Department of Labor has divisions that enforce federal minimum wage and overtime laws, provide job training and worker dislocation programs, and enforce workplace safety standards that exist thanks to legislation signed by Republican President Richard M. Nixon. Other divisions provide training and placement services for veterans, enforce safety and health standards for the nation’s miners, enforce standards of democracy and fiscal responsibility in labor organizations, and protect whistleblowers against retaliation in a number of private industries. In short, the work of the Department of Labor is vital to millions of working Americans.

Puzder’s statements and actions show unremitting hostility to the needs of wage-earning Americans and those who depend on them. Among other things, he has:

  • Urged union members to protest against increases in the minimum wage;
  • Opposed granting overtime to employees making as little as $23,660 per year;
  • Falsely claimed that minimum wage increases have led to restaurant closings;
  • Vowed to replace workers at his restaurants with machines;
  • Paid out multi-million dollar settlements in numerous lawsuits and enforcement actions – brought by the Department of Labor – as the result of workplace safety violations and failure to pay legally required wages.

Puzder’s statements and actions have been in direct opposition to the interests of wage earners. It is apparent that Puzder cannot be a champion, let alone a vigorous champion, of the welfare of workers. It makes no sense to choose a leader of the Department of Labor who is openly hostile to the very programs he will be responsible for guiding.

The Department of Labor already faces numerous obstacles to its enforcement efforts, even under a supportive administration. It lacks sufficient personnel to investigate all the labor law violation complaints it receives, and what investigations do take place do not result in speedy enforcement of the labor laws. Instead, its investigations must be followed up with enforcement actions that businesses can readily contest before judges, and its regulatory agenda is subject to searching and critical Congressional review. It should not also be saddled with top management that cynically seeks to defeat its agenda from within.

In his inaugural address, President Trump promised to benefit American workers and American families. He cannot achieve this goal if his Labor Department manager is opposed to the vital programs that protect American workers against wage theft and workplace dangers. Republican and Democratic Senators alike should reject this nomination.

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