Defeat of Trump pick Puzder a win for labor, but the next battle is right around the corner

REUTERS/Mike Segar
President-elect Donald Trump with Andy Puzder following their meeting November 19, 2016, at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

On Wednesday, foes of President Donald Trump and his Cabinet selections finally claimed a win: Andrew Puzder, nominee for Secretary of Labor, officially withdrew himself from consideration less than 24 hours before his scheduled hearing.

Puzder, the CEO of the company that owns fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., faced mounting pressure to withdraw, for numerous reasons — chiefly, his hiring of an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper and his ex-wife’s past allegations of domestic abuse, captured in an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in the 1990s.

But he’s out of a job in Washington for another big reason: over the course of his career, Puzder made a fierce enemy out of organized labor.

During the months that Puzder was up for the Labor post, unions in Minnesota and around the country organized an impressive campaign to stop someone they viewed as the most dangerous Labor Secretary nominee in generations. They can now say that campaign worked.

But Trump will nominate someone else. Can the labor movement sustain this momentum for a grueling four — or eight — years of Trump?

Not-so-fast food tycoon

No one in organized labor expected Trump to select a workers’ rights champion to head his Labor Department.

Still, to them, Puzder was an abysmal pick even considering their low expectations.

For one, past labor secretaries have had backgrounds in public service, either as lawmakers or state and federal government officials. Puzder is as an attorney who rose through the ranks of CKE Restaurants, the corporate parent of Hardee’s, becoming CEO in 1997.

Not since Ronald Reagan has a president selected someone with such a prominent corporate background to run the Department of Labor — an institution often seen as a bulwark protecting workers from corporate abuses.

Investigations into Puzder revealed that his company routinely violated federal labor law, with 60 percent of CKE restaurant locations having some violation, according to Bloomberg.

Under Puzder’s leadership, CKE was sued several times — and as recently as last week — for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, particularly over allegations of “wage theft,” or not paying employees for overtime. (Several of these cases were settled out of court.)

Puzder also has a long record of publicly opposing policies like an increased minimum wage, expanded overtime pay, and mandated employee breaks, on the grounds they are burdensome for business.

As workers in fast food and other industries took to the streets in 2015 to demand a $15 minimum wage, Puzder argued some jobs don’t create enough economic value to justify that rate. “How do you pay somebody $15 an hour to scoop ice cream?” he once asked.

He has also spoken of his desire to replace most fast food workers with machines. “They never show up late,” he said in 2016. “There’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” In another instance, he explained that his restaurants hire “the best of the worst.”

How labor fought him

The White House and Puzder’s backers in the business world claimed that he would bring a fresh sensibility to the Department of Labor they saw as responsible for business-stifling rules and regulations.

Labor, meanwhile, saw in Puzder an almost cartoonish villain. Leaders in several unions told MinnPost they couldn’t think of a time when a cabinet appointee provoked as much outrage and unified opposition as Puzder’s did.

The fast food multi-millionaire is, after all, a leading figure in an industry that has steadfastly resisted unionization for decades — a detail that added significant symbolic juice to labor’s campaign to derail him.

Bob Ryan
Bob Ryan

Bob Ryan, of the Steelworkers’ Union, said picking Puzder was like “putting the fox in charge of the henhouse” and said his confirmation would set the labor movement “back 70 years.”

Their outrage translated into action: Minnesota labor leaders involved in organizing against Puzder described a passionate campaign in which lots of people, including first-time activists, got involved, both in person and on the phone.

On January 26, a group of protesters demonstrated at a Hardee’s restaurant in St. Paul to protest Puzder, a scene that was replicated at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations nationwide.

According to Julie Blaha, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, organized labor launched a phone call campaign to secure the opposition of Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar to Puzder. (Both eventually announced their intent to oppose him.)

Eliot Seide, with the Minnesota chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, said a coalition of unions “worked diligently to get ahold of every senator on the [Labor] committee and every senator who might vote.”

The push to block Puzder dovetailed with another big effort from organized labor: denying the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education.

DeVos’ nomination was intensely opposed by teachers’ unions, which contributed to the most aggressive campaign to block a nominee thus far, with hundreds of thousands of people calling senators’ offices to urge a no vote.

Though DeVos squeaked through thanks to a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, labor leaders believe some of that energy spilled over into putting pressure on senators to oppose Puzder ahead of his confirmation hearing, which was scheduled for February 16.

‘This is a win for working people’

The release of the Oprah tape, obtained by Politico, appeared to be the final straw for Puzder. Hours after that story broke, GOP leadership in the Senate told the White House that their nominee simply didn’t have enough votes. At least 12 Republican senators were reportedly on the fence or leaning no — Puzder could only afford to lose two.

The post-mortem was easy to write: Puzder simply had too much baggage. Beyond his personal scandals, his record on labor issues was too far right for some moderate Republicans, while his stances on trade and immigration were too centrist for some hard-liners — including some in the White House, like top adviser Stephen Bannon.  

If labor may not have swayed most Republicans, it at least ran a strong campaign to keep pressure on Democrats to stay in line. Puzder likely would have been the only Trump nominee besides DeVos to receive unanimous Democratic opposition. (A Republican lawyer told Bloomberg that he didn’t recall a coordinated labor push as successful as this one.)

To labor leaders in Minnesota, Puzder’s defeat is an unmitigated victory.

Bernie Hesse
Bernie Hesse

“This is a win for working people,” AFL-CIO’s Blaha said. “I think his withdrawal shows collective action works… We’re showing signs of reaching a tipping point. Action has been building and building.”

Bernie Hesse, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, wasn’t surprised. “I don’t think they could have moved forward with him with a straight face,” he said. “We knew there was momentum.”

To Hesse, the success in blocking Puzder underscored the need for labor — perhaps the single most powerful political bloc in the U.S. at one point — to build coalitions: he cited immigrant advocates, faith groups, and worker justice groups as partners in protesting Puzder.

Though they hope Puzder’s defeat will force Trump to nominate a more agreeable pick, opponents of Trump’s administration know that may not be the case.

“We shouldn’t rest on our laurels,” said Franken in a statement after Puzder’s withdrawal, “because another potentially dangerous nominee could be right around the corner.” 

Indeed, on Thursday afternoon, Trump announced at the White House his nomination of Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor. Acosta is a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, and served as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the George W. Bush administration. 

Bloomberg reported that Acosta’s Bush administration colleagues believe his views on key policies aren’t far from Puzder’s, though he is more quiet about it.

Though Acosta shares a similar resume with Barack Obama’s labor secretary, Tom Perez — Harvard law, assistant attorney general for civil rights — labor leaders weren’t anticipating another Perez in any Trump pick.

“This is something we can build off of. People power does work,” Hesse said. He’s looking ahead to when, as he expects, Trump’s eventual Labor chief begins dismantling key programs — occupational health regulations and labor dispute enforcement — by denying them funds.

“We can learn from this. This is victory, but now we gotta set the table for more of them.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 02/16/2017 - 11:23 am.

    “You’re fired!”. or…?

    With a succession of bad choices by Trump for his inner circle candidates who he has and will need to bid farewell, reluctantly or otherwise:

    Dear Donald, Take my humble advice…please research; or at least do a little reading for a change if you seriously want your evolving picks, picked… when too many cabinet choices are consistently being rejected …bad indeed too many times.

    There;s a whole lot of ignorance plus arrogance in his bad choices and gives a far greater meaning to the old phrase “to the victor belong the spoils”?

    Take Flynn, (out, not in like Flynn)…and what did say to his “good friend”…..”You’re fired”…or more appropriately, “I will bury you !” ( Nikta to Kennedy some time ago…yet,who knows, eh?

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/16/2017 - 12:49 pm.

      He’s not serious

      He’s deliberately picking people that are the enemies of the departments they are being nominated for as a way of bringing those departments down. Shrinking and bathtubs and all that, you know. Not to mention Republican greed.

    • Submitted by Tim Smith on 02/16/2017 - 03:41 pm.

      What was

      Your reactiion when Obama had 4 nominees withdraw (Daschel, Richardson, Freeman, Gregg) and a Treasury Secretary with tax problems?how soon we forget his chaos n hysteria…

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/16/2017 - 07:19 pm.


        That was then and this is now: How befitting that Trump campaigned (lied) about helping the workingman, and then nominates folks to effectively squash the working mans rights. Folks you got took, you just haven’t realized how bad yet!
        Compare and cry all you want, you got the dysfunctional, arrogant, self-serving, Russian puppet, CIC you asked for, little late to say he’s not as bad as! Dude its only been 2 weeks not 8 years, and he has a favorable congress and Senate.

  2. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 02/16/2017 - 11:56 am.

    Selecting a workers’ rights champion

    First of all, it’s my view that cabinet level picks should be an advocate for the primary constituency they serve. I.E. Labor Secretary be an advocate for labor, Commerce Secretary be an advocate for business (and yes, head of EPA be an advocate for the environment – whoops).

    So it’s ironic, and telling, that Trump who not-so-arguably won on the backs of the proverbial working man/woman could not find a candidate that is a advocate for that working man/woman.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 02/16/2017 - 11:57 am.

    Puzder had an issue with an

    undocumented illegal alien worker he employed. Trump has gone with Acosta as new labor secretary pick. I am pretty sure he will have the same philosophy as Trump so not too much will change between Puzder and Acosta. This is a story for the folks who think any “win” against Trump will hurt him and his Presidency. I see where Trump’s approval rating was 55% today with The daily tracking poll. Folks, give him a chance, he has been President for 3 weeks, undone many of Obama’s executive orders, trying to put a staff together, figuring out the DC machine and has 55% of folks approving of his job…

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/16/2017 - 12:48 pm.

      Cite your source, please

      When you toss out statistics like that, you need to cite where they were obtained from. Otherwise, for all we know, you just made them up out of whole cloth.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/16/2017 - 01:21 pm.

        Rasmussen daily tracking poll

        No whole cloth needed.

        • Submitted by Matt Bowers on 02/16/2017 - 01:36 pm.


          Today’s Gallup poll has Trump’s approval at 41%, with disapproval at 53%.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 02/16/2017 - 01:52 pm.


            I think we saw the value of polls this past November … I look at all of them with skepticism, just reported on the results of one poll. Not stating it is more accurate than another. Take the average and 48% of the folks agree with him. That might make you liberals feel better, I certainly hope so .

            • Submitted by Matt Bowers on 02/16/2017 - 07:00 pm.


              You found a poll with good numbers for Trump–I found one with not so good numbers for Trump. You are right–polls should be approached with caution. Ask Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton.

            • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/16/2017 - 07:27 pm.


              If you are trashing polls, why is it you are using them to support the dysfunctional CIC? Not cherry picking by chance? The Hill has him at 39%


              We should also ask ourselves the question: If I voted for the dude, i.e. got sucked into his stick, how likely am I to (say: yep I was an idiot to get sucked in?) What % of that 39% do you think are sitting there saying to their friends, we got took again, by some BS slick talking New York City Elite! It isn’t happening at the Bull Elk saloon, they are all making up excuses just like trump about why things are they way they are, and that is why they are in there sorry state that allowed them to get sucked into that slick big city eastern elite BS!

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/17/2017 - 02:07 am.

      In other news

      More stuff for your average calcs:

      “The latest national survey by Pew Research Center finds that Trump’s overall job approval is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office: 39% approve of his job performance, while 56% disapprove.

      “The intensity of the public’s early views of Trump is striking . . . [It] already surpasses strong disapproval for Barack Obama at any point during the eight years of his presidency. The only occasion when strong disapproval of George W. Bush was higher than for Trump currently was in December 2008, near the end of his presidency.”

  4. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 02/16/2017 - 12:17 pm.

    Just think. This was the best Trump could find the first time around. And all that took him down was his version of nanny gate and alleged wife abuse?

    “We’re gonna win so much you’ll get tired of winning.’”

    “I have the best people.”

    uh huh

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/17/2017 - 06:03 am.


    Labor sealed it’s fate in America when the air traffic controller’s union, PATCO endorsed Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.

    • Submitted by Helen Hunter on 02/19/2017 - 12:26 pm.

      Because Reagan lied to them

      He sent them a letter before the election telling them he would support their strike.
      They made the mistake of trusting a bad actor and believing his lie.
      They did not “seal their fate” by so doing. In spite of long-standing anti-union bias by powerful politicians, unions are coming back. They’ve actually never left, but new ones have arisen and have been winning unionization in the service sector for decades, as well as older unions continuing to represent their members and win what they could in difficult times.

Leave a Reply