St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Ruth Berson & Patricia Kinsey
When President Donald Trump nominated St. Louis’ Andy Puzder to serve as the secretary of labor, it was a slap in the face to millions of working people in this country. On the Washington University campus, it hit especially hard.
Why? Not only is Puzder the chief executive of the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., fast-food restaurant chains long associated with paying people as little as possible and in many instances breaking the law by failing to pay cooks and cashiers for hours they worked, but he is also a graduate of the Washington University School of Law. He currently serves on the law school’s National Council and is a donor to the university.
From our perspective as working people at Washington University — one of us an adjunct faculty member for 19 years and the other a janitor for more than 22 years — we have serious concerns about Puzder’s nomination.
While it may seem unlikely, we have a lot in common with the tens of thousands of underpaid workers in St. Louis and tens of millions of workers nationwide — including the cooks and cashiers at Puzder’s restaurants — all of us struggling to make ends meet and create a better life for our families.
We live in the kind of economy that Puzder wants to maintain — one in which workers are underpaid, have few benefits and little stability, and are constantly threatened by outsourcing or automation. It is also an economy rigged for those at the top, who make millions and do not even have to play by the most basic rules: Puzder even admitted he failed to pay taxes for five years for a housekeeper employed by his family, all while he rakes in millions.
Janitors and adjunct faculty understand the challenges that all underpaid workers face. But as union members, we also know that we are stronger when we come together with our co-workers for a better future. Last year, adjunct faculty negotiated our first contract with the university after we joined Service Employees International Union Local 1. Our contract guarantees increased wages, good benefits and the stability that many working families in our rigged economy do not have. Washington U. janitors have been able to bargain for fair pay and benefits as members of Local 1. We have a voice on the job, but Puzder wants to silence working people like us.
Puzder knows full well how so much of our economy is built on underpaid jobs. Because his restaurant franchises keep pay so low, taxpayers have to put up $247 million per year to cover public benefits to help employees’ families make it week to week. Puzder does not have workers’ best interests at heart, but Trump has nominated him to run the federal agency charged with keeping American workers safe, ensuring they don’t face discrimination or wage theft, and promoting good jobs.