Labor Nominee’s Fast-Food Empire Slapped With 33 Complaints

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Labor Nominee’s Fast-Food Empire Slapped With 33 Complaints

Nicole Knight

“The U.S. Senate has all the reason it needs to reject this nomination and demand a labor secretary who will look out for working Americans instead of one who looks for ways to keep them down," said Cathy Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director for the National Employment Law Project.

Fast-food workers around the nation this week filed 33 complaints, alleging wage theft, harassment, and intimidation at franchisees of CKE Enterprises, the company run by President Trump’s controversial pick for labor secretary.

Meanwhile, demonstrations reportedly broke out Thursday in 31 cities, as cooks and cashiers at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., which are part of the CKE empire, rallied in support of a $15 minimum wage and demanded better workplace conditions.

The nomination of Andrew Puzder has been followed by weeks of allegations, with the new complaints of workplace violations dealing the latest blow. Labor advocates have attacked Puzder, a champion of workplace automation who opposes a minimum wage and worker protections, as well as the Affordable Care Act.

“Recently the restaurant I worked at went an entire month without paying me a dime, and they only agreed to pay me after I stopped coming to work in protest,” Angel Gallegos, a Carl’s Jr. cook in Los Angeles, said in a statement announcing the batch of complaints. “If Andy Puzder can’t be trusted to pay his workers what they’ve earned, why should we expect him to enforce laws meant to protect working Americans?”

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The complaints were filed with state and federal agencies by current and former workers. Twenty-two complaints allege wage and hour violations, seven concern unfair labor practices, and four allege sexual harassment, as Yahoo Finance reported.

“The U.S. Senate has all the reason it needs to reject this nomination and demand a labor secretary who will look out for working Americans instead of one who looks for ways to keep them down,” Cathy Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director for the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.

The complaints come amid reports that Puzder’s confirmation hearing was delayed a third time, and is now set for February 7, as the Washington Post reported.

Puzder in 2011 told California State University students that in “fast food, you sort of compete for the best of the worst.” Trump’s labor selection added that Hardee’s employees were “the worst of the worst.”

A key Republican on the Senate panel holding Puzder’s cabinet confirmation told Bloomberg on Thursday that reports of workplace violations at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. have left her undecided about whether she’ll support Puzder’s nomination.

“I want to discuss allegations concerning the Fair Labor Standards Act that some of his franchisees have been accused of,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. Republicans hold a narrow 12-11 majority on the panel.

Current and former CKE employees testified this month before a panel of U.S. Senate Democrats to wage theft, unfair business practices, and low pay that forced them to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Business and labor groups have released conflicting surveys about the work environment at CKE restaurants. A survey by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a labor advocacy group, reported widespread sexual harassment at CKE restaurants, with two-thirds of women surveyed reporting sexual harassment. But a survey released by the industry-backed Employment Policies Institute indicated that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. workers were overwhelmingly satisfied with their employer.

In 40 percent of Department of Labor investigations between 2009 and 2016, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s franchisees were found to have no wage and hour laws violations, according to a Bloomberg analysis of franchisees. The rate was better than most fast-food chains.