First Person

Puzder as Secretary of Labor? His own workers say that’s a terrible idea

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Lupe Guzman was help up at gunpoint twice while working at a Carl's Jr. restaurant.

Want some clues about how Andrew Puzder would protect workers as Secretary of Labor? Look at the way he treats his own employees. Then reach out to your Senators and tell them this man has no business at the Department of Labor.

“I mean nothing to them. All they care about is protecting their money.”

Lupe Guzman works the graveyard shift at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Las Vegas. After she’d been held up twice at gunpoint, she got the message loud and clear: The most important thing to the company is money. The money it can squeeze out of its employees, working them off the clock and into the night for no pay, denying raises, leaving women vulnerable to sexual harassment.

This company is CKE Restaurants, Inc. And the CEO is Andrew Puzder, who’s been nominated to be Secretary of Labor. That’s right: He’s nominated to lead the agency charged with protecting workers from unscrupulous employers.

The Department of Labor (DOL) is vitally important to millions of workers in the US. When Oxfam launched the poultry worker justice campaign, many people wanted to know why the government wasn’t doing something about the many problems. The government was doing something: OSHA was investigating dangerous conditions, Wage and Hour Division investigated places where workers weren’t paid in full.

That was then. And now we face Puzder: If you dismantle or disempower the DOL, those protections are gone.

The best part of my job is hearing from people about their lives. And low-wage workers face challenges every day, many of them due to employers who take advantage of their good nature and strength. The DOL is a thin line between them and abuse – but it is a line.

At a “shadow hearing” on Capitol Hill in January, several brave workers at CKE came forward to tell their stories to Senators. Often in tears, they conveyed what it’s like to work at a company where employees are regarded as numbers in a “labor budget,” squeezed for every penny of value.

Lupe Guzman

Lupe Guzman, a single mother of six, has worked for seven years at Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Las Vegas. She earns $8.75 an hour working the graveyard shift, and has to turn to social assistance programs to support her family: food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid.

“I work almost every day, and I’m still considered poor… People like Puzder don’t see how regular Americans are living day by day. They have no idea what we have to go through. People are hurting, people like me, families like mine. “

She works hard: She counts money, does inventory, cleans the equipment, wipes down tables, deals with customer service, locks up, tends to the drive through. She says she’s expected to work during breaks, and attend meetings on her days off.

“Every two weeks, I’m paid just under $500. Every dollar, after bills and rent, is accounted for… My car hasn’t worked in months, ‘cuz I can’t afford it. It’s rent, bills, or my car. I walk my kids to school as soon as I get home from graveyard. I am tired, I am sleepy. But I do what I have to do, ‘cuz my kids are my life. The little kids, say ‘Mom, why you work so hard? You’re never home.’”

While working at the drive-through window, she’s been held up at gunpoint more than once.

“I’ve had a gun pointed at me twice. Corporate did not care what I went through. The second robbery left me shaking and throwing up. And all they cared about was– was anything taken. They didn’t say anything about my well-being. Nobody asked how I was.

“That’s when I knew: I mean nothing to them. All they care about is protecting their money. There’s no protection for me every time I open that window. It’s an old store, and the only thing protecting that window is a stick.

“My children have no idea how close I’ve come to never coming home again. What if the third time I get robbed, they actually pull the trigger?”

Roberto Ramirez

Roberto Ramirez worked at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant for 18 years. In the morning, he regularly arrived 30 minutes early, to prepare the restaurant for the day. He cleaned bathrooms and floors, washed cooking utensils and pots and pans, prepared breakfast, got cash machines ready.

“I was never paid for extra time. If I complained, they’d retaliate by cutting my hours or changing my schedule… There’s so much work, people prefer to arrive early, before customers arrive.”

Roberto Ramirez worked at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant for 18 years. “We all have the right to live with respect and dignity in our work.”

“Many of my colleagues left the restaurant industry with serious psychological problems, which had negative effects on their families in the long term. We all have the right to live with respect and dignity in our work. I hope my testimony helps find a way toward fair pay and dignity at work.”

“If Puzder is confirmed as labor secretary, what happened to me at Carl’s Jr. will be multiplied at the national level. It would make me sad to see younger workers starting their careers in this industry and going through what I went through.”

Laura McDonald

Laura McDonald, who worked for CKE for 20 years, notes that the business changed radically after the founder of Carl’s Jr. /CKE Restaurants, Carl Karcher, passed away, and Puzder took over as CEO.

“When Carl Karcher was alive and in charge, we felt like someone in the company at least cared about the workers. Since Mr. Karcher passed away, CKE has tightened its budget in a way that makes it impossible to do the job without working off the clock. Worse, the company just seemed to not care about the employees anymore. I think Carl Karcher would be ashamed of what CKE has done to its employees. Stealing wages from employees who need money to feed their families is not what Carl would’ve wanted.

“Mr Puzder took a company that I loved and turned it into a business that makes money by stealing from its workers. I honestly can’t think of anyone less qualified to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect employees. He never protected the employees at CKE when he was in charge, so I don’t think he would be the person to protect American workers’ rights.”

Laura McDonald worked for CKE for 20 years. She says the company’s founder would not approve of the way it now treats its workers. “Stealing wages from employees who need money to feed their families is not what Carl would’ve wanted.”

“Everything at CKE is controlled from the top. … In order to avoid providing healthcare to its workers, CKE puts a strict limit on the number of full time workers we’re allowed to have. As a result, we had to hire most of our workers as part-time employees, even though the restaurant could provide more full time jobs. Even full time employees often don’t get the hours they’ve been promised. .. Very often the CKE labor budget means that we will give workers a shift of just two or three hours. And even then, we sometimes had to send people home when it’s slow.”

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