Think Progress • Kira Lerner and Alice Ollstein
Johaunna Cromer never thought she would work at a fast food restaurant. A college graduate, trained psychologist, and former member of the Air Force, she said she used to believe fast food employees were mostly teenagers trying to supplement their allowance.
But in 2014, when her family moved to Asheville, North Carolina to be close to relatives, Cromer ended up taking a position as a manager at a Hardee’s restaurant near her home. Counseling jobs were hard to find, and she needed quick money to support her two children.
The position proved far more trying than she’d ever imagined.
“I learned how hard the work was,” she told ThinkProgress. “And I never thought they would treat people the way they treat people for fighting for what’s right.”
Almost immediately after starting the job, Cromer realized that her $7.25 an hour salary was not sufficient to pay her bills and support her children. She became active in the Fight for 15 movement — a national network of fast-food and other low-wage workers demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union. She traveled across the country to participate in strikes and protests, gave televised interviews, and encouraged her coworkers to join the movement.
Eight months later, she was fired.
Cromer says her termination is the product of an anti-union, anti-worker culture at CKE Restaurants, which operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and whose CEO Andy Puzder was recently nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the U.S. Department of Labor.
Puzder has made his career on the backs of low-paid fast food workers like Cromer, and he has spent the last 16 years overseeing a fast food chain notorious for violating basic wage and hour laws. A review of federal and state court documents and Labor Department inspections paint a picture of a corporate culture that values profit over worker welfare.
People employed by Puzder have sued for discrimination, filed class action lawsuits over the denial of overtime pay, and alleged that they were fired for protesting the chain’s low wages.