Trump's First Labor Nominee: Burgers, Bikinis and Mocking Low Wage Workers…

In case you missed it, Donald Trump’s original pick to become Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, dropped out last week citing he was tired of the abuse that such a nomination brings.

At the heart of some of the resistance to Puzder’s nomination was a domestic abuse allegation from an ex-wife and some immigration concerns related to an undocumented housekeeper.

Puzder pulling out hurt the timing of this post – I was planning to write about him in the context of his ability to lead Labor – but from the perspective of how he viewed labor, not personal events/issues.

Let’s explore that topic anyway – as a moderate Republican, I would tell you this pick didn’t work for me to lead Labor.  I feel like you can be anti-Union as lead Labor in a GOP administration, but you’ve got to be progressive about the workforce you’re supporting in America – all the workforce, not just part of the workforce.

The best illustration I’ve found of the challenges Puzder had in that area is a recent BusinessWeek article titled “Trump’s Labor Pick Loves Burgers, Bikinis and Free Markets.” Let’s explore some of the content and I’ll give you color commentary as we flow though it related to Puzder as a potential Secretary of Labor:

“What’s more American,” the Carl’s Jr. narrator asks in a 2015 advertisement for the Most American Thickburger, “than a girl [swimsuit model Samantha Hoopes, biting into a potato-chip-stuffed cheeseburger that’s topped with a grilled hot dog] in a bikini [camera zooms out to reveal she’s wearing a stars-and-stripes string bikini] in a hot tub [covered with stars and stripes] in a truck [a Crew Cab pickup with an American flag paint job] on an aircraft carrier [with fighter planes taking off] underneath the Statue of Liberty?” Final shot: Hoopes biting into the huge burger, then #mostAmerican.

This commercial is the marketing vision of Andrew Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, owner of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, and now President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor. Puzder’s appeal to
“young, hungry guys” and their version of what makes America great helped two struggling fast-food chains become, if not top contenders, at least contenders. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” Puzder, who’s 66, said of that ad to Entrepreneur magazine. “I used to hear, ‘brands take on the personality of the CEO.’ And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”

Capitalist color commentary – It’s OK if Puzder likes the Carl’s Jr. campaign that showcases models in bikini’s eating a big a## burger.  It is, as the commercial describes, America. But if you routinely produce content that potentially alienates women and openly say it takes on your personality, it’s kind of hard to picture you running Labor.  Can you be a capitalist? Sure, as long as the market supports the approach. Can you lead Labor?  Probably not.  There’s no question had he got to confirmation hearings the ads play in those hearings, right?

“In the late 1990s the company bought Hardee’s, a struggling chain of about 3,000 restaurants located mostly in the South and Midwest, where Carl’s Jr. hadn’t established itself. The acquisition strained the company’s finances, though, and Karcher was forced out. In 2000, Puzder was appointed CEO. “Well, I think they really just said, ‘Let’s see if the cocky lawyer can fix it,’ ” he recalled in a 2009 oral history of the company conducted by California State University at Fullerton.

The first memo Puzder wrote to Hardee’s managers was direct: “No more people behind the counter unless they have all their teeth.” He closed some restaurants and directed the franchisees, who owned about half of all Hardee’s, to remodel, but that wasn’t enough to revive the brand. “You go into a store, and there’s a guy with a dirty shirt who is rude, and then you remodel the store, but the customers still go in and find a guy with a dirty shirt who is rude,” he later recounted to a trade publication. Slowly, Hardee’s came around. Sales in established restaurants increased in 2004 for the first time in years. Still, Puzder’s estimation of the workforce remained low. Hardee’s was “hiring the best of the worst. It’s kind of the bottom of the pool,” he said in a 2011 speech CNN recently dug up.”

Capitalist color commentary – “I grew up in an area of Missouri with a lot of Hardee’s.  It is the dregs of fast-food for sure, with brands like Wendy’s and McDonalds looking like Tavern On The Green in comparison.  I also spend a lot of time these days on the road, and when I duck into any fast food place I suddenly realize that whether I’m a 1% or not, I’m incredibly blessed and there’s a whole section of America that should view me as an aristocrat. Some of those people don’t have all their teeth.  You can long as a CEO of a company like Carl’s to upgrade your workforce, but the focus of someone to lead Labor should be less about mocking that section of society and more about how to help them improve their circumstances through work. 

Puzder’s business experience has been largely in a low-wage, low-margin industry built on a franchise model that tends to shift profits upward and responsibility downward. He claims 75,000 people as employees in the U.S. when presenting his qualifications for a cabinet position. But, like other fast-food executives, he tends to deflect blame for their treatment by franchisees when workers complain.And many complain. About 60 percent of the U.S. Department of Labor’s investigations into CKE restaurants turned up at least one violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to data compiled by Bloomberg BNA. Most other fast-food chains were even worse.

Capitalist color commentary – “Hard one here. There’s going to be a lot of claims in a business like this. If you had a Secretary of Labor from this type of business, you’d still see claims, but you’d want to see some type of progressive workforce planning that would reduce claims over time.”

Puzder has said he doesn’t oppose a modest increase to the minimum wage. But he told Business Insider in March 2016 that if wages were raised too high, restaurants would replace cashiers with machines. Many executives in the fast-food industry and beyond have suggested the same. Puzder went one step further. “They’re always polite,” he said of the proposed robots. “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.”

Capitalist color commentary – “The fact that Puzder couldn’t shut up tells you all you need to know.  Could you acknowledge the fact that higher wages could lead to more automation, so we have to be careful?  Absolutely.  But how about not being shitty about all the negative human factors that make it seem like you’re longer for the machines? #agentsmith

Closing – Puzder is out, and Acosta is in as the Labor nominee.  The fact that Puzder made it to the nomination stage shows how tone deaf the Trump administration is at times.  The GOP won the election, so it’s rightfully going to stock the cabinet with – you guessed it – Republicans.
How about we find some Republicans that don’t alienate women and aren’t flippant about low-end labor, many of whom voted from Trump?

This post originally appeared on The HR Capitalist
Author: Kris Dunn