Andrew F. Puzder did the right thing in withdrawing Wednesday from consideration as President Trump’s Labor secretary. He was the wrong person for the job. The chief executive of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, Puzder’s track record includes disparaging his own employees as “the worst of the worst,” opposing a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave, fighting expansion of overtime protections, and dissing the Affordable Care Act because it supposedly was reducing consumers’ disposable income and cutting into fast-food industry profits. None of those stances are in workers’ best interests.
Puzder had political baggage, too. He faced broad criticism over reports that he failed to pay taxes on wages to an undocumented immigrant working in his home, that he defended sexually charged Carl’s Jr. ads as “very American,” and that his wife had lodged — but later recanted — an allegation that he had abused her.
President Trump rode to victory in part by persuading working-class Americans that he was on their side. He then appointed a bunch of billionaires and Wall Street figures to key policy positions, raising doubts about his fealty to working-class America. Putting Puzder — who made his wealth in an industry rife with labor-law violations — in charge of enforcing labor laws was an even more egregious slap in the face to those who believed him.
Trump has a chance now to get it right. The Labor Department’s mission is “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Nowhere in there does it call on the department to make it easier for businesses to exploit their workers, or to stymie efforts to increase wages and improve the lives of American labor. It made no more sense to put Puzder, with his history, in charge of the Labor Department than it would be to put Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, in charge of the Commerce Department. Their world views stand in stark contrast to the job at hand. (Granted, Trump made the same mistake when he picked Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, whose authority he has been battling in court).
No one expects Trump to nominate a Labor secretary who would get the thumbs up from unions and workers’ rights organizations. But he can be expected to scout around for someone who is at least sympathetic to the people who count on the Labor Department for protection. He owes his supporters, and American workers, at least that much.