Tribune News Service • Saru Jayaraman
As a workers rights advocate, I work with many restaurant owners to teach them about the connection of low wages, sexualized marketing, and sexual violence and how to make workplaces both safe and supportive. Some employers are surprised to learn that mothers struggling to make ends meet are much less likely to escape violent personal relationships. Others are appalled when they realize that encouraging women to wear provocative attire to increase sales and supplement their sub-minimum tipped wage facilitates sexual harassment and violence perpetrated by both customers and supervisors.
But then there are restaurant owners like CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor, who has profited from a marketing strategy that objectifies women by placing them in bikinis eating burgers and has employed a business model that exploits workers through low wages and untenable working conditions. Puzder has spent his career opposing and undermining the core tenets of the Labor Department. A CEO who assails basic worker protections such as overtime pay, breaks and increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage has no business leading the department whose stated mission is “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners; … improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”
Puzder is an outspoken opponent of increasing the minimum wage, having obliviously asserted “no one ever intended (minimum wage jobs) would ever be something that a person could support a family on.” Puzder seems unconcerned that women make up two-thirds of our low-wage workforce, and a quarter are raising children and have no choice but to support their families on minimum and sub-minimum tipped wages.
Given the connection between economic insecurity and sexual violence, low-wage women workers, particularly women of color with children, suffer disproportionately from the impacts of violence whether at home or on the job, including a lack of job advancement opportunities, absenteeism, unjust job termination, and other adverse employment actions and impacts. Even worse, in many industries where women work in isolated environments or are expected to dress more provocatively, workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault and exploitation occur at significantly higher rates. Not only do these trends depress business profits, but too many unaddressed incidents culminate with horrific acts of violence and degradation.