Senate Democrats from the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) held a forum yesterday to hear from workers employed by Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Both fast-food chains are owned by CKE Restaurants, the company led by Secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder. The HELP Committee is expected to hold hearings on Puzder’s nomination soon, but Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), denied a request to have the workers testify during the official confirmation hearing.
Puzder has been opposed by several organizations that have raised concerns regarding his opposition to raising minimum wage, opposition to paid sick leave, and his sexualized treatment of women, among other issues.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who organized the forum with HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), explained that “Mr. Puzder will have the opportunity to explain [his] views and actions at this upcoming confirmation hearing.” But she warned, “talk is cheap.” The Senator continued, “The Senate has an obligation to hear from those who are best qualified to tell American about Mr. Puzder’s suitability to be the secretary of labor and to stand up for American workers—his own workers.”
The forum included testimony from two women workers about their experiences.
Lupe Guzman, a 47 year old single mother of six children, has worked the graveyard shift at a Las Vegas Carl’s Jr. for the past seven years. She is rewarded for her tireless effort with only $8.75 an hour, only slightly above the Nevada state minimum wage.
“I work almost every day and am still considered poor,” said Guzman. “I live on housing assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid just to survive. There is no way we can make rent, bills, and transportation without public assistance. Even if you are one single person. People like Andrew Puzder don’t see how regular Americans are living day to day.”
In addition to being paid poverty wages, Guzman testified that she had also experienced wage theft. “I noticed that my paid 30-minute lunch breaks were being removed from my check,” she said.. “Instead of 7 hours, my check reflected 6.3 hours. Every two weeks, I’m paid just under $500. Every dollar, after bills and rent, is accounted for, When there is money missing, I notice. For about a year this happened. I said something to management and it didn’t happen again, but I never got the back pay for that time. I know other people, who have not complained, who still get half an hour taken out of every shift, sometimes they even clock out and are told to keep working.”
Laura McDonald devoted over 20 years of her life working for CKE. She testified at the forum that she was subject to long hours with no overtime pay.
“CKE required all of its General Managers to be available ’24/7.’ They specifically tell you that you must always be available by phone both to address problems in the restaurant and to answer calls from your District Manager. The work is non-stop. I worked more than 60 hours a week.”
McDonald continued, “Until 2009, CKE paid a flat salary to General Managers. Even though we do the exact same work as hourly employees, the company refused to pay any overtime or even to pay anything to recognize the fact that we always work much more than 40 hours each week.”
Puzder has opposed the current Department of Labor rule expanding eligibility for overtime pay. The rule would raise the salary threshold for overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, making nearly 4.2 million additional workers—more than half of whom are women— eligible to receive overtime protections. Increasing the salary threshold creates a bright line rule that protects workers who may have been misclassified as not eligible for overtime pay. Certain companies were flouting overtime compensation laws by giving otherwise eligible employees managerial titles, which allowed them to deny overtime pay.
“I honestly can’t think of anyone less qualified to enforce laws that are supposed to protect employees. He never protected the employees he was in charge of at CKE, so I do not think he would be the person to protect American worker’s rights,” McDonald concluded.
The HELP Committee has delayed Puzder’s confirmation hearing, which had previously been set for next week. The hearing has not yet been rescheduled, but could be delayed until February. Meanwhile, Puzder has met with individual senators, including HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray who has raised concerns that “on issue after issue, Andrew Puzder has made clear he will do what’s best for big businesses like his own—at the expense of workers and their families.”
Media Resources: Testimony of Lupe Guzman & Laura McDonald at Forum on Labor Secretary Nominee Andrew Puzder, 1/12/17; Statement by Senator Elizabeth Warren, 1/12/17; Statement by Senator Patty Murray, 1/12/17; Law360 1/10/17; Politico 1/10/17; Feminist Newswire 5/18/16; Entrepreneur 5/20/15