Farm Forward believes that a sustainable and just food system treats animals and humans with dignity. We’re facing a new administration whose agricultural advisory committee will include outspoken opponents of wage reform and animal welfare policies. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we approach our advocacy in strategic ways, building new alliances and supporting efforts to improve the food system for both animals and people. Our latest effort is joining a coalition of organizations—including those representing workers and the environment—to oppose the nomination of Andrew Puzder as President-elect Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Labor.
The U.S. Department of Labor exists to protect the rights of working people, in part by ensuring employers follow the law. As CEO of CKE restaurants, the parent company of fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., Mr. Puzder has spent the last 16 years overseeing a fast food chain notorious for violating basic wage and hour laws.1
At any given time, there are about 3.5 million fast food workers in the U.S. They typically work for minimum wage without medical benefits or the right to unionize. Fast food workers also suffer one of the highest injury rates of any employment sector, and are statistically more likely than police officers to be murdered while working.2 Paul Secunda, Director of the Labor and Employment Law Program at Marquette University, has voiced concern that Puzder has taken advantage of the fact that fast food workers are a vulnerable population that is easy to abuse:
“They are usually at the bottom of the pay scale, they usually don’t have the sophistication to know their rights under the law, and it’s hard for them to be collective in their approach because they’re moving around so much… It’s really easy to manipulate them and exploit them, and that’s what we’ve seen,” said Secunda.
Even within a dangerous industry CKE stands out. Since 2006, investigations of CKE restaurants have found workplace health and safety violations in 57 percent. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United)—a nonprofit that advocates for restaurant workers’ rights—surveyed over 500 CKE restaurant employees and not only found that close to a third of the workers had experienced a form of wage theft, but also that two-thirds of female workers experienced sexual harassment at work.3 The rate of sexual harassment across the fast food industry is high— 40 percent of female workers report some form of unwanted contact, but ROC United further notes that the 66 percent reporting rate found among CKE employees is “disturbing.” Given this track record Puzder is in no way qualified to serve as Secretary of Labor, a position that wields so much power over the most vulnerable of our workforce.
During his tenure as a fast food CEO, Puzder has made 650 times more money per year than his lowest-paid full-time employees. According to Institute for Policy Studies analysis of the most recent data, Puzder has made as much as $10 million per year in total compensation. Special executive “perks” made up just a small portion of this pay, and yet these rewards dramatically illustrate the challenge of Puzder’s labor policy positions. For example: Puzder opposes mandatory sick leave policies for workers and wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, he himself has enjoyed huge reimbursement checks from his company for medical and dental costs — above and beyond his regular employer-provided health insurance benefits. In just one year, these reimbursements totaled an astounding $61,000. In contrast, only 9 percent of CKE non-managerial staff have access to health-care through their employer.4
The increasing demand for cheap chicken fuels an unbalanced system—one rife with the abuse of power—that creates the suffering of both factory workers and animals alike. An in-depth look at the treatment of poultry plant workers this year by Oxfam America revealed the severity of worker abuses in the industrial agriculture system. Their comprehensive report, “Lives on the Line: The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken,” highlights the labor and wage abuses inherent in today’s large scale industrial poultry industry.5 For more information, see our article “The Human Costs of Factory Farming.”
The poultry industry is booming. Consumer demand is growing and profits are climbing. Executive compensation is soaring at the cost of both humans and animals. The buying power that fast food chains, like Puzder’s Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., wield could ostensibly shift our industrialized food system to one that is more humane and sustainable. Puzder and CKE restaurants exemplify the fast food industry’s blind abandon of dignity, sustainability, and respect for the lives of workers and animals. We must vigorously oppose Puzder’s nomination both ethically and morally as Secretary of Labor since he has made a career of exploitation.
A Secretary of Labor Puzder would support the interests of the fast food industry—and its big meat and food industry suppliers—over the needs of hard-working people in the food system. Fast food companies couldn’t exist without the products that come from animals raised on factory farms; his confirmation would ensure that the unnecessary suffering of farmed animals on factory farms continues.
We need you now more than ever. Will you join us in our opposition to Andrew Puzder as Secretary of Labor as we fight for a more just and sustainable food system that treats the land, farmers and animals with respect? Fill out this quick form to let your Senators know you care.