Guest Opinion: Puzder should not be labor secretary

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Feb. 10
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By historic standards governing Cabinet appointments, President Donald Trump’s nomination of Andrew F. Puzder as labor secretary would be in deep trouble. But this is not like any administration in history.

The Senate is dominated by a 52-48 Republican majority that already has seen fit to confirm nominees who in past administrations would have been sent packing. Historic standards do not apply in a hyper-partisan era where GOP senators fear losing their jobs if they insist on qualified, conflict-free public servants.

The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has postponed hearings on Puzder’s nomination three times to allow the nominee to sort through a variety of problems that in any other year would be disqualifying. Puzder is a onetime St. Louis trial lawyer and current chief executive of CKE Restaurants, whose St. Louis headquarters are in the process of moving to Nashville, Tenn. Puzder is perhaps closer to Trump’s style than the president’s other nominees.

He is brash, outspoken, misogynistic, combative and uninterested in quarantining himself from his financial interests. Like many of Trump’s nominees — Rick Perry at the Energy Department, Betsy DeVos at Education, Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development — he is almost uniquely unqualified for the duties of the office to which he seeks confirmation.

The Labor Department’s official mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”

This is almost the opposite of Puzder’s mission in his 16 years heading the fast-food company that operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants.

The company currently is being sued in California for “wage theft.” The case deals with how CKE’s corporate-owned restaurants switched managers back to hourly wages after the Obama administration’s Labor Department extended overtime pay to salaried workers earning less than $47,476 a year.

Puzder’s attitude may be skewed by the fast-food industry’s reputation as employer of last resort for the uneducated and undermotivated. This part of the service sector is where a lot of job growth is found. He has been a vocal opponent of a $15-an-hour minimum wage that might attract better workers. He has mused about replacing workers with robots: “They’re always polite. They always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

Add this to the fact that he hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper and reveled in TV commercials featuring bikini-clad supermodels pitching 1,000-calorie burgers to his testosterone-crazed target demographic. And, like Trump, he has balked until this week at divesting his assets.

There’s every reason for the committee to send him back to Nashville. A robot would be better.