by Rachel West
President-elect Trump, who campaigned as the savior of the working class, has spent the past three weeks staging a bait-and-switch of epic proportions. His pick for treasury secretary profited off of the 2008 financial crisis, his health secretary wants to cut Medicare, and his housing secretary referred to desegregation as a “failed socialist experiment.”
And now he has nominated Andrew Puzder, the billionaire fast-food executive, to lead the Department of Labor.
If Trump’s actual goal is to display utter contempt for American workers, then burger-czar Puzder is a pretty strong choice. He’s a key figure in an industry that’s notorious for labor abuses, including low wages and wage theft, and he has personally played a strong role in perpetuating those injustices. According to a recent Labor Department investigation, the majority of Puzder’s own restaurants—about 60%—were found to be in violation of labor laws.
And now Puzder will be tasked with enforcing the very laws he has repeatedly broken.
Puzder vocally opposes labor protections that are crucial for most Americans, including overtime pay, protections from workplace discrimination, and access to affordable health care. But his nomination deals a particularly violent blow to the nation’s most vulnerable and lowest-paid workers. Despite the fact that he makes more in a day than the typical fast-food worker earns in an entire year, Puzder believes that low-wage workers are paid too much. He has been an outspoken opponent of the minimum wage, which puts him at odds with more than 90% of Americans. And his claims that higher minimum wages lead employers to cut jobs runs counter to decades of rigorous research showing that moderate minimum wage increases boost family income without affecting employment.
Nowhere is Puzder’s nomination more devastating than in the 21 states where policymakers have refused to raise the minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25 per hour. The overwhelming majority of those states—19 out of 21—voted for Trump after he promised to be “a president who will protect them and fight for them.” They have been waiting more than seven years for a raise, and every year the purchasing power of their $7.25 shrinks—making it even more difficult to make ends meet. But with a Labor Secretary who thinks “some jobs don’t produce enough economic value” to justify a minimum-wage increase, a president who has declared that wages are “too high,” and a Republican Congress that has repeatedly rejected widely supported minimum-wage legislation, these workers will likely have to keep waiting.
If the federal minimum wage stays at its current level, by the end of Trump’s first term it will be worth 20% less than it was worth when Congress last increased it in 2009. That means a full-time minimum-wage worker would earn just $13,750 per year in today’s dollars—nearly 15% below the poverty line for a family of two.
Adding insult to injury, Puzder penned a cruel op-ed last year that lambasted Americans who must turn to public assistance to make ends meet. But there’s a simple reason that low-wage workers are eligible for public assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid: It’s because employers like Puzder pay their employees too little to survive.
It’s the height of hypocrisy that Trump—who sold himself as a champion for American workers—has crowned an anti-labor billionaire to be the nation’s chief advocate for working people. To preserve and protect American workers’ rights, security, and dignity—and to prevent the most vulnerable, lowest-paid workers from sinking further into poverty—lawmakers must take a strong stand against the coronation of this anti-labor secretary.