“I want people [for the Cabinet] that made a fortune!” thunders Donald Trump, reflecting his self-congratulatory belief that material wealth directly measures greatness and personal virtue.

The President-elect’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, is CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. fast-food-chains. He easily meets Trump’s high standards on riches (although his vast corporate income remains undisclosed) in qualifying for the most wealth-laden Cabinet ever assembled in U.S. history.

Trump claims Puzder was picked because of “his extensive record of fighting for workers.” If this were remotely true in any normal sense, such news would be eagerly greeted by the majority of Americans who have experienced declining living standards under the pro-finance and anti-industrial restructuring of the last four decades, during which most Americans have seen their share of the national income fall.

Unfortunately, “fighting for workers” has acquired a perverse new meaning in the bizarro universe of Andrew Puzder and Donald Trump.  

Puzder’s “fighting for workers” has consisted of opposing efforts to shield them from the most abusive forms of under-payment and wage theft, unpaid overtime, harassment, and anti-union pressures.

A longtime disciple of the free-market deity Ayn Rand, Puzder views any intrusion on corporate prerogatives—like a higher minimum wages, paying overtime to low-paid employees labeled “managers,” providing healthcare to all workers—as forcing employers to hold down the expansion of jobs, pay, and benefits.

Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary warns that the recent Obama-established rule on overtime—now blocked by a federal court ruling—would needlessly drive up costs. Puzder, who makes more in one day than his minimum-wage workers make in a year, said the rule would force him to deny hourly workers any salaried management positions, thus making the overtime rule a “barrier to the middle class, rather than a springboard.”

Puzder has also demanded a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which he says has created a “government-mandated restaurant recession” because rising premiums have left workers with less money for dining out. In fact, as economist Dean Baker has pointed out, restaurant employment has increased by about one million jobs since the act was full implemented in 2014.

And Puzder has taken aim at programs like food stamps, meant to provide a safety net to poorly paid workers, as having “the unintended consequence of discouraging work rather than encouraging independence, self-reliance, and pride.”

Puzder is so fanatical about preventing government “interference” that he even objects to rules granting workers a thirty-minute meal break after five hours of work. Similarly, he is offended by laws requiring employers to provide paid sick days (as if the country needed more people in Puzder’s own food service industry working while they are ill).

Puzder has objected loudly to inspections of Hardees and Carl’s Jr. restaurants that yielded fines totaling about $20 million for violations of wage and hour laws found in about 60 percent of the outlets checked by the Department of Labor, including franchise-owned establishments not directly controlled by CKE. Puzder has called for a far more pro-business regulatory policy.

Perhaps the most challenging issue for Puzder will be the drive for a higher minimum wage, which continues to enjoy broad public support.

Contrary to the myth put forth by Puzder and others on the right that the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is a “learner’s” pay for the young and childless, the average age of minimum-wage workers is actually thirty-five and more than half of  minimum-wage workers toil full-time. Puzder claims to support “rational” increases in the minimum wage, as opposed to the $15 level widely seen as truly essential for a living wage.

A minimum-wage raise beyond the “rational” level would merely result in employers replacing workers with robots, Puzder says. In addition to saving money, wrote Puzder, robots have some superior qualities to humans: they are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s ever a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

Puzder will provide Senators at confirmation hearings with no shortage of things to ask about, including his use of  scantily-clad women like Paris Hilton in burger ads. (“We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” he’s said.) When he’s not speaking out against workers’ rights, Puzder has spent a lot of time advocating some of the nation’s most extreme “life begins at conception” legislation limiting the reproductive rights of women.

Puzder also  rather implausibly blasted Clinton on his website for her affinity for  “globalist corporations” that would “continue taking advantage of cheap labor, lax environmental regulation, and the other benefits of unbalanced, poorly negotiated trade deals.”

This from the CEO of a corporation with 3,500 outlets in some forty countries. The restaurants in Puzder’s global realm are reaping vast profits from cheap labor and lax regulation of labor laws—which he now intends to spread more widely across the U.S. as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor.

Roger Bybee is a labor studies instructor, longtime progressive activist, and writer who edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.

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Comments

Way to go, union guys! You helped to vote Trump in to office and now he's going to screw you good! He don't mind you working, he just doesn't believe you should be paid anything to do it!
Progressives should not be surprised by Trump's Cabinet picks. Trump is not a progressive. Progressives should remember that the Department of Labor, as a department of government, should serve all Americans and not be an advocate for the left. Dramatic increases in the minimum wage and other issues cited are public policy issues that affect all of us. The DOL in recent years has been a one-sided advocate for unions, redistribution, quotas and set-asides, ever-increasing regulation, and collectivism. Don't be surprised if Trump moves this government agency toward the middle, respecting the rest of America.
Hope Springs Eternal, don't it?

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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