Business

Low-wage earners and far-right skeptics united in criticism of Andrew Puzder for Labor secretary

Andy Puzder, Donald Trump

President-elect Donald Trump, left, and CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder, right, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., in November.

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

As a cook at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Santa Monica, Rogelio Hernandez, 71, has been flipping burgers for more than two decades. He said his wages have remained stagnant for years, though he did receive a raise of 25 cents an hour a month ago to $11.75 an hour. 

“Everybody is struggling,” he said in an interview. “The work is not OK with the low salaries we get.”

Like many Carl’s Jr. workers, Hernandez isn’t a fan of president-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Andrew Puzder to serve as secretary of Labor. Puzder is chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc., the California-based parent company of Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and other fast-food chains.

“Nope, nope — very bad,” said Hernandez, speaking through a translator. “He’s going to give us a lot of work with a very low salary.”

His opinion is shared by other low-wage earners and activists who regard Puzder as an opponent to efforts to raise the minimum wage and secure other pro-labor rights. Their dislike of Puzder unites them with a group of unlikely bedfellows — far-right immigration skeptics whose criticism of the fast-food executive is equally passionate but fueled by entirely different concerns.

On Thursday, the hashtag #NeverPuzder started trending on Twitter, promoted by staunch immigration critics like Ann Coulter and Mark Krikorian. They are criticizing CKE’s heavy reliance on immigrant labor to staff its restaurants, saying that the company shuns U.S. citizens in favor of cheap labor coming primarily from Latin America. 

“Andy Puzder favors robots and illegal aliens over American workers,” wrote Scott Greer, a columnist for the conservative site the Daily Caller, on Twitter. “Republicans should block his nomination.”

Puzder, 66, has voiced opposition to efforts to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from its current $7.25, arguing that it would result in widespread layoffs. But he has denied that he is in favor of robots and self-serve technology replacing all workers, saying that the human touch is still necessary in fast food.

At CKE, Puzder has defended the company against accusations from its own employees that it engages in unfair pay practices. The company has fought complaints in recent years from managers who alleged they were denied overtime pay and that CKE encouraged them to work on vacation days.

CKE is part of an industry in which labor violations are common, and the company actually ranked better than most fast-food chains on the basis of Department of Labor investigations, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg BNA.

Still, labor activists see Puzder as the wrong choice to lead the Labor Department. 

“Puzder is a pro-boss, anti-worker CEO,” said Mary Kay Henry, who heads the Service Employees International Union, in an interview. She said Puzder has helped lead “the race to the bottom” in terms of wages.

“I think it’s another nomination that shows Donald Trump is completely out of touch with what working Americans need,” she said.

Representatives for Puzder didn’t respond to a request for comment.

CKE said in a statement that Puzder “has distinguished himself as a tireless advocate for economic policies that create jobs and opportunities.”

The company, which was founded in Anaheim and is based in Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara, said that upon Puzder’s confirmation, it would work toward “a seamless and orderly transition” of corporate leadership.

david.ng@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT

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