Vice • Alex Swerdloff
Of all the nominees for cabinet positions in Donald Trump’s White House, the one that may have the most direct and immediate impact on restaurant and food industry workers is Andy Puzder, the current pick for United States Secretary of Labor.
Although CNN recently reported that the polarizing fast-food executive—currently the CEO of CKE restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and the Green Burrito and Red Burrito brands—may be having “second thoughts” about the appointment, Puzder tweeted that he is looking forward to his confirmation hearing, which will likely take place next month.
Regardless of who is ultimately confirmed for the position, the next labor secretary’s policies could greatly affect roughly 14.4 million American restaurant workers, nearly four million of whom work in the fast food sector. Puzder’s nomination, however, has many food policy and labor experts deeply worried. They say his history of opposing minimum wage, overtime, and other pro-worker regulations portends a new era of strife for low-income workers—and may even lead to the replacement of workers who speak out… with machines.
Puzder expressed his antipathy to minimum wage in a 2014 op-ed for The Wall St. Journal, where he argued that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25—as the Obama administration advocated at the time—would drive business owners to “cut jobs or rely more on technology.” Using his own business as a case model, Puzder offered a maxim that he would repeat time and time again: If the government regulates the food industry too heavily, businesses will automate the workers right out of their jobs. Puzder said that if the minimum wage was raised, fast-food franchisees would resort to automated ordering systems, as were being tested at “almost every restaurant chain in the country from Applebee’s to McDonald’s.”
Puzder later said on FOX Business that he was “not opposed to raising the minimum wage rationally,” though he has not yet explained what a “rational” raise might mean. If $10.10 is exorbitant, the $15 that many workers advocates support is presumably out of the question.