While we haven’t seen the level of outrage with the Acosta nomination that we saw with former nominee Andrew Puzder, Mr. Acosta still has a lot to answer for, and his relative lack of a record on workers’ rights issues is cause for concern. Will he protect against political influence and work to uphold the Department’s mission to promote worker welfare and assure workers’ benefits and rights? Or will he toe the line of the Trump administration, fail to aggressively pursue investigations and litigation, and leave American workers out in the cold?
Earlier this month, Workplace Fairness sent a position statement to the Senate HELP committee in charge of the confirmation hearing. Workplace Fairness focuses generally on advocating for workers’ rights, and more specifically on ensuring that America workers have access to comprehensive, easy to understand, information about their legal rights and remedies in the workplace. Workplace Fairness made clear that in light of recent issues with information going missing from government websites, Mr. Acosta should commit to ensuring that DOL continually provides transparency about his intentions going forward, and provides comprehensive information to the public about our rights in the workplace and how to enforce them.
Another issue sparking a call for assurances from Acosta is the potential for politicized hiring at the Department of Labor. The Trump administration is actively promoting an anti-worker agenda, from appointing a cabinet full of millionaires, to cutting the budget for programs that help workers, and working to repeal the Affordable Care Act which will dramatically impact all workers’ health benefits, even those insured through their employers. It is vital that the Secretary of Labor guard against politicized hiring that would turn the Department into an ally of the current administration rather than an agency committed to protecting workers. Acosta will most certainly have to answer questions about the 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General which implicated him in politicized hiring at the Department of Justice when he was an Assistant Attorney General. The report found that he failed to properly supervise his deputy assistant who was clearly engaged in politicized hiring, in violation of civil service laws. He will need to explain to the HELP Committee how he intends to ensure that this type of hiring doesn’t happen at the Department of Labor. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right recently issued a statement (joined by Workplace Fairness and 86 other organizations) specifically asking how Acosta would prevent political interference with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the Wage and Hour Division, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics as they carry out their missions to enforce rules and laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Overtime Rule, and report vital statistics and information to the American public.
Senator Elizabeth Warren also raised grave concerns about a variety of issues, including politicized hiring and budget cuts at the DOL in her 23-page letter to Acosta, asking him to respond by March 27. Senator Warren asks Acosta to detail how he intends to continue the work of investigating and litigating labor law violations under Trump’s proposed 21% cut to the DOL budget. She says
“I am also concerned about how you will respond to President Trump’s plan to cut more than 20% of DOL’s budget-the third biggest cut to any agency after the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency…These draconian cuts will hobble your ability to run core parts of the agency, including the divisions that investigate and enforce the federal health and safety standards that keep workers safe on the job and the federal wage and hour laws that ensure that workers are paid fairly.”
It is expected that Acosta will be confirmed, as confirmation only requires a simple majority vote, and the Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate. Democrats and workers’ rights advocates hope to use this confirmation hearing as an opportunity to get some important assurances and commitments from Acosta on the record.
Many workers’ rights groups and other organizations, like the Economic Policy Institute, with its Perkins Project, are poised to pay close attention to what the Department does in the coming years, and to hold the Secretary of Labor accountable for the promises he makes. And as always, Workplace Fairness will continue to maintain free, up-to-date, comprehensive, easy to read information for the public about what their rights are in the workplace, and how to enforce them. These efforts will become even more critical in the days ahead as government agencies are forced to eliminate staff positions and enforcement activities, and potentially lessen their commitment to protecting the rights of workers.
SHANNON RUSZ has been associated with Workplace Fairness since 2009. Since 2014 she has worked as Content Manager for Workplacefairness.org, and most recently has taken on the role of Acting Executive Director of Workplace Fairness. Shannon is an attorney practicing in the Annapolis, Maryland area. She received her undergraduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Law degree from The George Washington University Law School.
The Trump administration’s “budget blueprint” would devastate worker safety, job training programs and legal services essential to low-income workers. Its cuts include a 21 percent, or $2.5 billion, reduction in the Department of Labor’s budget.
The budget would reduce funding for or eliminate programs that provide job training to low-income workers, unemployed seniors, disadvantaged youth and for state-based job training grants. It eliminates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) training grants as well as the independent Chemical Safety Board. Also targeted for elimination is the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to low-income Americans.
“Cutting these programs is cutting the safety net for the most vulnerable workers, those striving for the middle class,” said Matt Shudtz, executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “This budget would eliminate training programs for them, the kind of things people need to move up in the world. It is very anti-worker and anti- the most vulnerable workers.”
“This budget will mean more illness, injury and death on the job,” she said Thursday, the day the proposed budget was released.
Targeting programs that prevent injury and illness
The White House budget proposal justifies its enormous cuts to the Department of Labor by saying it focuses on the agency’s “highest priority functions and disinvests in activities that are duplicative, unnecessary, unproven or ineffective.”
The budget would close Job Corps centers that serve “disadvantaged youth,” eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, decrease federal funding for state and local job training grants—shifting more financial responsibility to employers and state and local governments. The budget would also eliminate certain grants to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which helps people with disabilities stay in the job market.
Also slated for elimination are OSHA’s Susan Harwood training grants that have provided more than 2.1 million workers, especially underserved and low-literacy workers in high-hazard industries, with health and safety training since 1978. These trainings are designed to multiply their effects by “training trainers” so that both workers and employers learn how to prevent and respond to workplace hazards. They’ve trained healthcare workers on pandemic hazards, helped construction workers avoid devastating accidents, and workers in food processing and landscaping prevent ergonomic injuries. The program also helps workers for whom English is not their first language obtain essential safety training.
“The cuts to OSHA training grants will hurt workers and small employers,” said David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Training is a proven, and in fact necessary method to prevent worker injuries and illnesses. OSHA’s training grants are very cost effective, reaching large numbers of workers and small employers who would otherwise not be trained in injury and illness prevention.”
“Everyone, labor and management, believes that a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. That is the purpose of the Harwood grants,” said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment at United Steelworkers.
The White House says eliminating these grants will save $11 million, a miniscule fraction of the $639 billion the Trump administration is requesting for the Department of Defense.
“No words to describe how cruel it is”
Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) would mean no independent federal agency dedicated to investing devastating industrial accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the West Fertilizer plant explosion, Freedom Industries chemical release in Charleston, West Virginia, and the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California. Those are among the hundreds of cases CSB has investigated over the past 20 years or so.
“Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public are safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB,” said CSB chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland in a statement.
“The cost of even one such accident would be more than the CSB’s budget over its entire history. And that calculation is only economic. The human cost of a catastrophic accident would be enormous,” said Wright. “The CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.”
The budget proposal also jeopardizes essential legal support for low-wage workers. While not dedicated to employment issues, the Legal Services Corporation provides vital services to low-wage workers, including on issues related to workers’ compensation and other job benefits.
“Gutting the Legal Services Corporation,” said NELP’s Conti, “there are no words to describe how cruel it is, especially considering grossly underfunded the agency is.”
“The government should be investing in workers, their families, and communities, but instead this budget drastically cuts the programs meant to uplift them,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen.
The White House calls the budget proposal a “Budget Blueprint to make American Great Again.” On a call with reporters, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, “this is the ‘America First’ budget” and said it was written “using the president’s own words” to turn “those policies into numbers.”
“This is not so much a budget as an ideological statement,” said David Golston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.
President Donald Trump’s new pick to head the Labor Department is getting an early boost from a “divide-and-conquer” strategy against labor unions and their allies, even before his qualifications and background as a civil servant are scrutinized in a Senate confirmation hearing.
The nomination of R. Alexander Acosta was announced by Trump less than 24 hours after the president’s first choice for the job, hamburger-chain executive Andrew Puzder, dropped out of consideration. Puzder faced mounting Senate opposition, even from some conservative Republicans, because of disclosures that he had personally broken labor law by hiring an undocumented household servant, and also that he had been accused of spousal abuse many years ago.
Labor unions and Democratic Party leaders in Washington, D.C., had maintained a unified front against the Puzder nomination but that unity dissolved almost immediately with the announcement of Acosta’s nomination February 16. His first confirmation hearing, which was scheduled for this week, has been moved to March 22.
Acosta, 48, is currently dean at the Florida International University’s law school, a position he has held since 2009. A Harvard-trained lawyer, he held several appointed positions in the administration of George W. Bush. Before that, he was a labor lawyer at the giant law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, known for representing large multinational corporations.
Pro-labor Democrats in the Senate have been conspicuously quiet on Acosta’s nomination—at least thus far. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, for example, was an outspoken opponent of Puzder but spokeswoman Alexis Krieg tells In These Times that the senator has no comment on Acosta.
Not so shy is Erik Loomis, assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island and a labor commentator at the progressive blogLawyers, Guns & Money. He said:
“The selection of Alexander Acosta should provide no comfort for those who worked to reject Andy Puzder. Acosta has a lifetime of anti-union and anti-worker positions. Appointed to the National Labor Relations Board by George W. Bush, Acosta consistently decided with employers during his term. His support of Ohio’s attempt to suppress black voting in 2004 is deeply disturbing. That the AFL-CIO seems to think Acosta is as good as they are going to get under Trump is depressing, but perhaps realistic.”
William B. Gould IV, a law professor at Stanford University, agrees with Loomis’ analysis of Acosta’s tenure at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). He says Acosta had “a short, and for the most part uninspiring record” at the NLRB. Acosta served at the board for just eight months in 2003, a time when anti-union Republicans were in control.
Gould, a former NLRB chairman during the President Bill Clinton administration, cites several cases as examples of Acosta’s anti-worker positions:
Alexandria Clinic, P.A., 339 NLRB No. 162 (2003). Acosta voted that hospital strikers could be legally fired because they delayed the beginning of an otherwise legal job action by several hours.
Curwood Inc., a division of Bemis Company Inc., 339 NLRB No. 148 (2003). Acosta voted to ignore otherwise illegal threats made by the employer against workers trying to form a union. He also sanctioned otherwise illegal promises of new benefits to workers who would vote against the union.
Beverly Health, 339 NLRB No.161 (2003). Acosta voted against a corporate remedy in spite of the fact that the company had been found guilty of extensive misconduct on other occasions. His vote was in the minority.
“Curiously, one opinion of Acosta’s, while laudable and appropriate, will give him problems with the anti-immigrants,” among conservative Republicans, Gould adds.
In the case of Double D Construction, 339 NLRB No.48 (2003), Acosta stated that a worker who used a false social security number should not be considered guilty of committing a crime. Such misrepresentations are just part of the workday reality for undocumented workers, Acosta argued. This was the correct decision, according to Gould, but will likely be viewed differently by Republicans favoring a hard line against immigrants.
Equally problematic for worker rights advocates is Acosta’s tenure at the Department of Justice, where Acosta held appointed positions starting in 2003, says Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the pro-worker Restaurant Opportunities Center United.
There are at least two “troubling” episodes in Acosta’s Department of Justice career, Jayaraman says. First, Acosta is on record supporting efforts to restrict voting rights for African Americans in Ohio in 2004. In that case, Acosta was accused of exerting political pressure to help suppress voter turnout. “Voting rights are essential to labor rights, so I see this as important,” Jayaraman says.
So does the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group that has been fighting attempts to restrict voting laws. Committee President Kristen Clarke stated:
Mr. Acosta led the Civil Rights Division at a time that was marked by stark politicization, and other improper hiring and personnel decisions that were fully laid to bare in a 2008 report issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG found that actions taken during Mr. Acosta’s tenure violated Justice Department policy and federal law. Political and ideological affiliations were used as a litmus test to evaluate job candidates and career attorneys, wreaking havoc on the work of the Division. This egregious conduct played out under Mr. Acosta’s watch and undermined the integrity of the Civil Rights Division. It is hard to believe that Mr. Acosta would now be nominated to lead a federal agency tasked with promoting lawful hiring practices and safe workplaces.
A second troubling incident was a plea deal that Acosta negotiated while he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2005, Jayaraman says. In that case, a man accused of having sex with underage girls and soliciting prostitution received a light sentence, apparently because the man was a wealthy businessman who could afford expensive lawyers, she claims.
“This was a sexual predator. This is very relevant to workers in the restaurant sector because sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the restaurant industry is just rampant,” Jayaraman tells In These Times. “Acosta does not take the issue seriously.”
But in the final analysis, “it doesn’t matter whether it’s Puzder or this guy (Acosta). The agenda is the same … The secretary of labor doesn’t set the policy, the president does,” says Jayaraman.
He says: “Trump’s selections, both Puzder and Acosta, are inherently anti-worker. But so is Donald Trump, despite the unusual level of support he received from union members.”
This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on March 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
Andy Puzder, President Trump’s pick to run the Labor Department, didn’t really bow out. He was fired.
But even though Trump made the phrase “you’re fired” his motto, he didn’t force Puzder out. We did. Working people sent him the pink slip.
When Trump was inaugurated less than one month ago, he figured he could dictate his policies and ram his appointments through the Republican-run Congress. Being the least popular president elected since polls began recording public sentiments apparently didn’t faze him.
Trump loaded his proposed cabinet with billionaires, cronies and crooks, goading his opponents.
One of the Worst
Of all the unqualified and inappropriate crew of cabinet nominees, Puzder was one of the worst. As the CEO of the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains, he has both personal and political beliefs that clash with public values. He opposes raising the minimum wage or requiring that restaurants pay servers the same minimum wage as other workers earn and he routinely violated labor laws at his own restaurants. He behaves in a sexist way and defends the sexist behavior of his subordinates. And yet had he become the next Labor secretary, he would have been required to enforce the labor laws he flouts.
It’s no surprise that low-wage workers and the labor movement found Puzder unacceptable. Ahead of his scheduled Senate hearings, thousands of workers — including people who work at Puzder’s own restaurants — protested the nominee in front of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants from coast to coast.
Puzder has also enraged women and advocates over his use of sexualized images of women in Carl’s Jr. ads. In his own words: “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers.”
Saru Jayaraman, Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, said on Democracy Now!,
You’ve seen these ads of Carl’s Jr. restaurants in which they have nearly naked women holding up burgers in front of their breasts or lying on the floor eating a burger or feeding burgers to each other in naked positions. And then you look at the data from our report and other reports showing that young women, often very young women, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old girls, were harassed, grabbed, assaulted in various ways, as I said, told by customers, “Why aren’t you dressed like the girls in the ads?”
(ROC United is an affiliate of People’s Action.)
In Trouble from the Beginning
Puzder’s nomination was in trouble from the beginning. His hearing was postponed at least four times because the nominee failed to provide required paperwork to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
What eventually forced Trump to demand Puzder’s withdrawal was the growing opposition to Puzder’s nomination among some GOP senators. Those Republicans were angered, not by his sexism and abuse of working people, but his hiring of an undocumented woman to clean his home. Politico reports that some close Trump advisor’s didn’t fully back Puzder’s nomination because he supported moderate immigration reform.
Puzder’s anti-worker behavior should disturb every American. Over the past few years, amid rising inequality, the plight of low-wage workers has become a central issue in economic debates. There’s broad support for increasing the minimum wage nationally to begin to address the stagnation of real wages. In state after state, voters have approved ballot initiatives that boosted the minimum wage within their borders, and in Seattle, Los Angeles and now New York State, voters have embraced a pay floor of at least $15 per hour.
Opposition to Puzder generated an organized barrage of calls to senators and the White House, petitions, protests and more. The repeated delays of his confirmation hearing might have hurt Puzder as well. Senate Republicans tried to rush all the cabinet confirmations because they knew due diligence and scrutiny would expose the questionable records of Trump’s team. As the delay dragged on, more and more revelations, like the damning tape of his ex-wife appearing in disguise on the Oprah Winfrey show describing how Puzder physically abused her, came to light. (She later retracted the charges and said she regretted her Oprah appearance.)
It’s no accident that Puzder bowed out just two days after National Security Adviser Gen. Mike T. Flynn’s resignation. The Trump administration’s confidence is shaken. GOP unanimity is broken. Just last week, Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, couldn’t be confirmed without Vice-President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote when two Republicans voted against it.
Thousands of local protests as part of the #ResistTrumpTuesdsays campaign and in response to the outrageous immigration orders have fueled public rage against the administration and its supporters. Boycotts of Uber, Disney, Tesla and other corporations cooperating with Trump’s economic agenda have also alarmed business leaders.
Plus, the past two weeks have GOP senators feeling the heat as their constituents have showed up at town halls meetings and Senate offices demanding opposition to dismantling Obamacare and Trump’s crooked cabinet.
All of that pressure brought on Puzder’s demise. The people sent him packing.
Within a day of Puzder’s bowing out, Trump named Alexander Acosta, dean of Florida International University College of Law, as his new nominee for Labor secretary. Acosta is sure to also get strong scrutiny from people who work for a living and their advocates.
The people have begun to slow the momentum of the Trump/GOP anti-people agenda. And the resistance to their agenda has only just begun.
This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on February 16, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.
The fight against President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, fast food CEO Andy Puzder, is shaping up to be as intense as opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for education secretary. Puzder’s long delayed confirmation hearing is set for Thursday, and a few Republican senators are already signaling they may vote against him.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lisa Murskowski (R-AK), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are withholding their support of his nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made it clear through a 28-page letter with 83 questions for Puzder that she will ensure his confirmation process will be a knock-down, drag-out fight. Other prominent Democrats have spoken out against his record as an employer, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on President Trump to withdraw Puzder’s nomination.
DeVos ultimately squeaked through a Senate floor debate, but only after an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. For weeks before that vote, thousands of people flooded Senate offices with calls against her nomination, and teachers and their allies protested.
Two Republican senators, Sen. Collins and Sen. Murkowski, who now represent half of the Republican senators withholding support for Puzder, voted against her confirmation. Now that twice as many Republicans have already voiced apprehension regarding Puzder, his chances of being confirmed appear even lower.
In her letter, Warren mentioned his “record of prolific labor law abuses and discrimination suits” and “a sneering contempt for the workers in your stores, and a vehement opposition to the laws you will be charged with enforcing.”
Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns fast food restaurants such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has been the subject of class action lawsuits over the denial of overtime pay as well as lawsuits accusing the company of discrimination. Workers also allege that they were fired for protesting as part of the Fight for 15 campaign.
ROC United, a restaurant employee advocacy group, released a report last month showing that many of the over 500 workers surveyed experienced sexual harassment and unsafe conditions working at CKE restaurants. Sixty-six percent of female CKE employees said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, compared to 40 percent of women who reported such incidents across the entire industry. Puzder has also opposed a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Puzder’s nomination has also been plagued with reports of domestic abuse against his first wife, Lisa Fierstein. On Tuesday, a Missouri judge will rule on whether to unseal records from Puzder’s 1987 divorce, just two days before the nominee’s confirmation hearing. Republican and Democratic senators have also received a tape from the Oprah Winfrey Network that shows a 1990 episode titled, “High-Class Battered Women,” in which Fierstein appeared to discuss the alleged domestic abuse. Fierstein has since retracted the domestic abuse allegations.
Collins has seen the tape, according to Bloomberg, and said, “I am reviewing the other information that has come to light and I’m sure all of this has been explored thoroughly.”
Like the teachers unions that opposed DeVos, which often work with the Fight for $15 campaign, labor groups also have the power to galvanize opposition to Puzder. Last Thursday, thousands of workers protested against his nomination across the U.S., a spokesman for the Fight for 15 campaign told The New York Times. Some of the protesters demonstrated at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations.
The passionate response to DeVos’ nomination, and eventually confirmation, may also be owed to the broad appeal of protecting public school funding, since plenty of middle class Americans of all political stripes send their kids to public schools or know someone who is a teacher. There is a possibility that a broad swath of Americans would similarly oppose a nominee for labor secretary whose record suggests that he will trample on labor protections.
This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on February 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.
Donald Trump proposes to put fast food CEO Andy Puzder in charge of the Department of Labor, where he could bring his program of wage theft, automation, and sexism to workers nationwide. Unions and worker advocacy groups are not so enthusiastic about this proposal, and one of the ways they’ve tried to register their concern is by tweeting at Puzder. This has revealed something new, interesting, and pathetic about the wealthy, powerful, outspoken political nominee: he has incredibly thin skin. Puzder has been steadily blocking his critics on Twitter:
The Hardees and Carl’s Jr. CEO has blocked the Twitter accounts of at least five labor advocacy groups. This week, he even blocked one of the country’s most prominent union leaders, Mary Kay Henry of the 2-million member Service Employees International Union.
“Yes, the Twitter news is true. A sentence I can’t believe I’m writing,” an SEIU spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday evening. The union is the second-largest in the country, and has been the main backer of the Fight For $15 movement to raise wages in the fast food industry.
As a veteran fast food leader opposed to wage hikes, Puzder’s beef with Henry and the SEIU seems clear. But he’s handing out the blocks more liberally than that. The cabinet nominee has also blocked the National Employment Law Project, the Economic Policy Institute, MoveOn.org, the Fight for $15, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — all organizations that advocate on behalf of workers, especially low-wage workers and workers of color.
These groups are sober, policy-focused, and polite. As NELP’s Judy Conti told Buzzfeed, “We’re not name-calling. There are no ad hominem attacks.” But Puzder apparently can’t even face being tweeted at about New York Times coverage of himself, at least if it’s a progressive think tank doing the tweeting.
Just think: a labor secretary who doesn’t want to hear from pro-worker groups.
This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.
In an otherwise grim period for the U.S. labor movement, the fast food industry has been a hot spot for organizing activity. For the past four years, the union-backed Fight for 15 movement and allied groups have staged a series of nationwide, day-long strikes and protests in support of higher wages and unionization for fast food workers.
Fast food workers have yet to gain any significant union representation. But thanks in large part to the movement’s efforts, states and cities across the country have passed minimum wage laws raising pay for millions of people.
And now, if President-elect Donald Trump has his way, an enemy of the Fight for $15 movement will lead the U.S. Labor Department.
On Thursday, Trump revealed that he had nominated Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, to be Labor Secretary. CKE Restaurants is the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., two fast food companies that have been targeted by Fight for 15. Puzder himself is on record as an opponent of raising the minimum wage, and has said that he would like to try automating service more service jobs in response to wage hikes.
Unsurprisingly, the fast food lobby was delighted with Trump’s decision to elevate Puzder. International Franchise Association President and CEO Robert Cresanti called Puzder “an exceptional choice to lead the Labor Department” in a statement responding to the news.
Cresanti also offered up a wishlist for Puzder’s early days in office. The Obama Labor Department issue a rule (currently held up in federal court) that would dramatically expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. The department has also fought to expand joint-employer liability, meaning that multinational corporations such as McDonald’s may be held legally accountable for labor law violations committed at their franchised locations.
“We are hopeful that, if confirmed by the Senate, a top priority [for Puzder] will be rolling back the damaging effects caused by the expansion of joint employer liability to America’s 733,000 franchise businesses, and the too-far, too-fast increase in the overtime threshold that was recently put on hold by a Texas judge,” said Cresanti.
The progressive National Employment Law Project, on the other hand, described Puzder’s nomination as a “sucker-punch in the gut to all the men and women of good faith who believe in the mission of the U.S. Labor Department.”
“The job of the labor secretary is NOT to strengthen the power of corporations to reap record profits by squeezing every last drop out of their low-wage workforce—and threatening to replace them with machines if they ask for wages they can support their families on,” said NELP Executive Director Christine Owens. “While Mr. Puzder’s qualifications may fit the bill for the latter, those qualifications are anathema to what a secretary of labor should stand for.”
As Labor Secretary, Puzder would head up the main government agency charged with investigating claims of wage theft. A 2016 Bloomberg analysis of Labor Department data found that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants were themselves frequent violators of the law.
That may be why Fight for 15 organizing director told the American Prospect two weeks ago that appointing Puzder as Labor Secretary would be “like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the treasury.”
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on December 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Ned Resnikoff is a senior editor at @thinkprogress.He was previously a reporter for for International Business Times, Al Jazeera America, and msnbc. Follow him on twitter @resnikoff.
Recently, the Department of Labor proposed a rule to bring overtime up-to-date. If the proposal goes into effect, an additional 5 million white-collar workers are expected to benefit from overtime. The Department of Labor wants to hear your voice on this proposal and until this Friday, September 4, 2015,they are taking comments on the proposed rule.
Whether a worker receives overtime or not is determined by a three-part test. Under this test, the employee does not receive overtime when:
they are paid a fixed salary;
their salary is at least $455 a week (which equates to $23,660 a year); and
their job primarily involves executive, administrative, or professional duties.
Furthermore, there are exemptions for highly compensated employees who regularly perform executive, administrative, or professional duties and make at least $100,000 a year, including at least $455 a week via salary or fees.
The Department of Labor’s proposal would focus on the salary aspect of the three-part test. Instead of a stagnant number, the salary standard would be set at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers, which is expected to be about $970 a week, $50,440 a year, in 2016. For highly compensated employees, the standard would be set at the 90th percentile, expected to be $122,148 annually.
These days, the few that do fall under the salary threshold for overtime likely fall under another threshold, the poverty line. The poverty line for a family of four is $24,008 a year, or $348 more than the overtime threshold. This means that, a worker making $460 a week could work 50 hours every week, receive no overtime pay, and be below the poverty line.
The Department of Labor’s proposal can still change and they want to hear from you on a wide variety of issues. The agency wants your opinion on the proposal to use the 40th and 90th percentiles, or switch to using changes in inflation to determine the salary threshold. They want to know whether the three-part test is working. First and foremost, they want to know what overtime pay would mean to you and your family.
Make your voice heard and make it clear that this is an important issue that has been ignored for far too long. Share your ideas on the proposal here and your story here. You only have until Friday, but please, don’t make the comments too long they would have to work overtime to read them all, and chances are they don’t get paid for that.
About the Author: The author’s name is Erik Idoni. Erik Idoni is a student at the George Mason University School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.
To commemorate its 100th anniversary, the U.S. Department of Labor has launched “Books that Shaped Work in America (www.dol.gov/books), an online project which explores work, workers and workplaces through literature, and aims to educates the public about the history, mission and resources of their Labor Department.
People from all walks of life are being asked to recommend books that informed them about occupations and careers, and molded their views about work.
What book would you list that shaped work in the nation? What title from which iconic author to choose? Fiction or nonfiction: which plays a bigger role? Whose life—in biography or autobiography—exemplifies the axiom that hard work is the best path to achieving the American Dream? Plays and poetry count, too.
Already on the list: Death of a Salesman, What Color is Your Parachute?, Working, Economics in One Lesson, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Feminine Mystique, Anthem, and On the Waterfront, among others. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, contributed suggestions for the list, as did George P. Shultz and seven other former labor secretaries from both sides of the aisle. Other notables that contributed to the list include authors Daniel H. Pink and Joan Acocella, Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith, Liz Claman of Fox Business News, President of the National Urban League Marc Morial and Scott McGee of Turner Classic Movies. Their recommendations are included on the initiative’s website, along with brief summaries of each book and links to related U.S. Department of Labor resources.
About the Author: Carl Fillichio serves as senior advisor for public affairs and communications at the U.S. Department of Labor. He oversees the department’s media and public relations efforts, internal communications, social and digital media, audio visual production, graphic design, editorial services, web development and the DOL National Contact Center. He also serves as the chair of the department’s centennial and the U.S. Labor Hall of Honor.
Prior to coming to the Labor Department Fillichio was a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers, the global investment bank, where he promoted the firm’s thought leadership in talent management, diversity recruitment, and philanthropic initiatives.
Previously, he served for seven years as the Vice President for Public Engagement at the Council for Excellence in Government, a national non-partisan think tank that worked to improve government performance and citizen participation, understanding and trust in government. In this role Fillichio convened thought leaders, Members of Congress, journalists, and community members to examine a wide range of public policy issues. Working alongside the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, he led a national initiative to capture public perceptions of safety and emergency preparedness. He also directed the Council’s efforts on attracting the best and brightest to public service and served as program committee chair of the annual Excellence in Government Conference. For his work, he was named in 2004 to Utne Magazine’s list of the “Radical Middle: 10 Americans Reshaping the Future of American Politics.”
In 2013 he was named “Communicator of the Year” by the National Association of Government Communicators.
This is not Fillichio’s first “tour of service” at the US Department of Labor: He was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs during the Clinton Administration. He grew up in Chicago, Illinois and Boca Raton, Florida and is a graduate of the John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Advocates estimate that tens of billions dollars are stolen from workers every year through wage theft. A national survey of workers in the United States’ three largest cities – New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles – showed the startling finding that 26 percent of those surveyed in low-wage industries were paid less than the minimum wage in the last year and 75 percent were not paid overtime. The survey showed that 15 percent of the earnings of low-wage workers were stolen each year.
Part of the problem is that often workers don’t have the ability to prove that their wages were stolen. Pay stubs do not have uniform standards that clearly indicate overtime, wage per hour, exact days, and hours worked. Ten states do not even require employers to provide pay stubs for workers. The uneven standards and lack of uniformity and clarity in standards makes it very difficult for workers to prove that wages are stolen.
It would cost employers almost nothing to provide workers with such information. Already, employers are required to keep this information and give it to the IRS, state tax authorities, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), just not to the workers. So it’s not as if companies do not already collect this information—they simply don’t want to give it to workers. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a statement indicating it intended to make a rule making greater standards and transparency. The Department announced that
Wage and Hour Division [of the Department] intends to publish a proposed rule updating the recordkeeping regulation issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to assist employers in planning to protect workers’ entitlement to wages that they have earned and bring greater transparency and openness to the workplace.
The proposed rule would address notification of workers’ status as employees or some other status such as independent contractors, and whether that worker is entitled to the protections of the FLSA. The proposed rulemaking would also explore requiring employers to provide a wage statement each pay period to their employees.
But anti-wage theft activists are saying the rule is not taking effect quickly enough.
“We are encouraged that the DOL is proposing a regulation that would mandate pay stubs. But the devil is in the details,” says Ted Smukler, policy director at Interfaith Worker’s Justice Center, which has helped make the country’s wage theft crisis visible nationally. “The regulatory language has not been released, even while this has been on the DOL’s agenda since the fall of 2009. Meanwhile, tens of millions of workers are ripped off every week. Whether it’s through regulatory reform or passing national legislation mandating that businesses provide workers detailed pay records, something must be done.”
It goes without saying that struggling American workers need every dollar they earn in order to survive. But as the U.S. economy sputters back to life after the worst recession in 70 years, it’s worth pointing out that eliminating wage theft would not only be the just thing to do—it could prove an economic stimulus.
About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Alternet, The Atlantic and The American Prospect. Mike Elk is a labor journalist and third-generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. He has written for Harper’s Magazine, the American Prospect and In These Times.