Fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the next Labor Department secretary, turned around the Southern California-based parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s with help from scantily clad women hawking oversized burgers in racy ads.
More recently, he’s raised his own profile by becoming an outspoken national advocate on behalf of businesses, railing against increased government regulation, bemoaning the costs of the Affordable Care Act and serving as an economic advisor to Trump.
On Thursday, Trump announced his intention to nominate Puzder to head the department charged with ensuring workers’ rights and safety — and likely to lead an effort to undo many Obama administration initiatives.
“Andy will fight to make American workers safer and more prosperous by enforcing fair occupational safety standards and ensuring workers receive the benefits they deserve, and he will save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages,” Trump said in a statement.
Puzder said he shared Trump’s belief that “the right government policies can result in more jobs and better wages for the American worker.”
Puzder, 66, has criticized new federal rules expanding overtime pay and opposes the push for a $15 minimum wage.
He has raised eyebrows by musing about deploying increased automation to his restaurants and once slammed California’s regulatory climate, saying the state sometimes treats businesses as if “we have kids working in coal mines or women working in sweatshops.”
Puzder also is a strong supporter of Trump, writing on his blog on election day: “If you’re a small or mid-sized business, a working or middle-class American and you want someone in your corner, Donald Trump is your candidate.”
Unlike Trump, Puzder has advocated for providing legal status — but not citizenship — to the millions of immigrants in the country illegally, saying massive deportation is not a practical option and that the Republican resistance to broad-based reform was hurting the party.
Beginning as the personal attorney to the former CEO and Carl’s Jr. founder, Carl Karcher, Puzder helped CKE Restaurants Inc. overcome severe financial difficulties in the 1990s, caused in part by the purchase of the troubled Hardee’s franchise. He took over as chief executive in 2000.
“Andrew Puzder is someone with the real-world experience to understand workforce issues and how jobs are created,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, which represents chain restaurants and a variety of other businesses.
But Democrats and advocates for U.S. workers balked at Trump’s intention to nominate Puzder to head a federal department that is focused on increasing employment opportunities, improving working conditions and protecting employee rights.
Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, said Thursday that “based on Mr. Puzder’s own comments, it’s hard to think of anyone less suited for the job of lifting up America’s forgotten workers.”
“He opposes raising the minimum wage, threatens to replace restaurant workers with machines, has consistently opposed long-standing rules that protect workers and law-abiding employers, and demonstrated that he prizes corporate welfare and profits over workers’ well-being,” Owens said.
Under Puzder’s leadership, CKE defied a trend toward healthier fast-food fare by focusing on jumbo-sized hamburgers. And he pitched them to customers through provocative advertisements, including one in 2005 starring Paris Hilton eating a burger amid soap suds while washing a luxury car.
“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” Puzder said in a 2015 interview with Entrepreneur magazine.
Complaints about the advertising campaign, “aren’t necessarily bad for us” because the attention led to increased sales, Puzder said.
But Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said Thursday that Puzder’s views on women “were deeply troubling.”
“He’s objectified and undermined women in an effort to sell hamburgers,” she said of Puzder.
CKE, headquartered in Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County, has more than 3,300 locations in 42 U.S. states and 28 countries. It was acquired by private equity firm Apollo Global Management in 2010 and taken private.
The company is currently in the process of relocating its headquarters to Nashville, Tenn., near Puzder’s home.
If confirmed by the Senate, Puzder would lead a department that includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks and reports on job growth, wages and unemployment benefits.
Under President Obama, the Labor Department was aggressive about protecting workers through new rules and enforcement actions. Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which was blocked by a federal judge this fall, made it tougher for companies to win federal contracts if they violated workers’ rights.
Puzder could lead an effort to scrap Obama administration initiatives, particularly the overtime rules, which seek to broaden the number of Americans who are compensated for extra work by doubling the salary level below which hourly workers must receive overtime. Those rules also recently were blocked by a federal judge.
“The real world is far different than the Labor Department’s Excel spreadsheet,” Puzder wrote in an opinion article in Forbes this spring about the overtime rule.
“This new rule will simply add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama administration has imposed on employers, forcing many to offset increased labor expense by cutting costs elsewhere,” said Puzder, co-author of a 2010 book, “Job Creation: How It Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It.”
On the minimum wage, Puzder told the Los Angeles Times in March that “there’s nothing wrong with rational increases in the minimum wage that don’t kill jobs.”
“But we’re talking about entry-level jobs,” he said. “Are people going to want to hire entry-level employees for these very high minimums, which come with Obamacare, which come with mandatory sick leave or other benefits which the government imposes on business for these individuals?”
Puzder told CNBC in May that the minimum wage could be raised to $9 “with minimal impact” but that a “better alternative” to a boosting incomes would be to expand the earned-income tax credit, which helps low-income workers.
Fast-food industry workers and liberal groups have been pushing to increase the minimum wage to $15 and have convinced some cities and states — most notably California — to push their minimum wages to that level over the next several years.
Puzder was criticized for telling the Business Insider website this spring that he would like to try a fully automated restaurant. That led to reports that he wanted to replace fast-food workers with robots. He responded by writing an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal saying technology could replace certain functions, but full automation was not on the menu at CKE Restaurants.
He noted that employees at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s “make biscuits from scratch…. bread chicken tenders by hand, prepare complex burger orders, hand-scoop the ice cream for milkshakes.”
“None of these tasks can be effectively automated, and we wouldn’t want them to be,” Puzder wrote.
Puzder earned his law degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 1978 and was a trial lawyer in the city until 1991. While practicing law there, he met Karcher, who had turned a single hot-dog cart in Los Angeles into the Carl’s Jr. fast-food chain.
Karcher was in serious financial troubles and hired Puzder as his personal attorney in 1990. A year later, Puzder moved to Orange County, where Carl’s Jr. was based at the time, and helped resolve the troubles.
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2:25 p.m.: This article was revised throughout with confirmation of the selection, comments from President-elect Trump and Andy Puzder, additional details about Puzder, past comments from him and comments from Vicki Shabor of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
10 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from David French of the National Retail Federation.
9:10 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project.
This article originally was published at 8:45 a.m.