Sixty-six percent of women employed at restaurants owned by Andrew Puzder, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary, reported being sexually harassed at work — significantly higher than the national average for female fast food restaurant workers, which is 40 percent.
Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United conducted the poll and publicized the results in a report called “Secretary of Labor Violations?: The Low Road Business Model of CKE Restaurants, Inc.’s Andrew Puzder,” which was released on January 10.
“Workers at CKE restaurants have spoken of extensive wage and hour violations and excessive rates of sexually harassing behavior from guests and customers associated with a brand that has sought to sexualize women as a hamburger-marketing tool,” the report states. “These findings call into question the viability of Andrew Puzder for the role of the nation’s Secretary of Labor.”
Puzder became CEO of CKE Restaurants in 2000. The company’s subsidiaries include the chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Advertisements for CKE’s restaurants have frequently caused controversy, as they often contain very sexualized images of women.
“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” Puzder said in an interview with Entrepreneur in 2015. “I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”
Puzder called his advertising techniques “an appeal to youth” — evidently not considering the female “youth” population that works for his restaurants and has experienced sexual harassment, sometimes directly relating to the sexual ads.
Seventeen percent of female employees at Puzder’s restaurants said they have, while at work, been asked to “be more sexy” or wear tighter clothing or makeup. Just 6 percent of female fast food workers nationally reported the same scenario.
“Customers have asked why I don’t dress like the women in the commercials,” a crew member at a Hardee’s in Tennessee reported.
A cashier at a Carl’s Jr. in California reported, “I continually get notes left on tables from customers, customers flirt or ask me out. I have also been followed outside the store by customers.”
According to the report, 61 percent of the female employees surveyed said they have experienced “sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions” while at work — more than double the 27 percent of women working in fast food restaurants overall.
Forty-three percent said they have been pressured to go on a date with someone while working. The national average is just 9 percent.
Further, 42 percent reported experiencing sexually suggestive looks or gestures while at work — more than double the 18 percent of women working in fast food restaurants overall.
A former employee at a Hardee’s in North Carolina who chose only to be identified as Christin reported inappropriate behavior from one of her supervisors when she first started working there.
“Once, he just grabbed me and kissed me while we were cleaning in the back,” Christin recalled. “It was very confusing — as a teenager, I wasn’t totally sure what to make of my relationship with him. I felt very pressured by him.”
Christin left the restaurant in 2011 after five years of working there but said many women stay because they have limited options.
“Most of the people I worked with were single moms in way worse off financial situations than me and didn’t have other choices,” she said. “Working there, you do not feel empowered enough to challenge anything, so you just accept the injustice.”
In addition to the reports of sexual harassment, employees also alleged wage theft, discrimination, unfair treatment/favoritism by managers and stressful work shifts with no breaks. And Puzder does not hold himself to the same standards that he does his employees.
Between 2009 and 2012, Puzder enjoyed $1,353,676 in “perks” from his company — which his employees are not entitled to. For instance, Puzder is opposed to mandatory sick policies. Meanwhile, Puzder receives, in addition to his own insurance coverage, reimbursement checks for medical and dental costs. Over four years, he received $167,409 in medical reimbursements.
Puzder is also not a fan of personal time off for his workers:
“Puzder has said he would like to replace employees with robots who ‘never take a vacation.’ Meanwhile, he has pocketed as much as $11,000 per year from the company to cover the cost of his personal leisure trips. CKE has also covered the cost of personal income taxes related to those trips. And to make sure he travels in style, the company has forked over as much as $60,000 for his transportation via company car or jet. For leisure time closer to home, the company covers the tab for private social and recreational club dues, which ran more than $3,000 one year.”
Abel Gonzalez, who works at a Carl’s Jr. in California, reported a slew of troubles working at Puzder’s restaurant, including favoritism from managers, wage theft and not receiving necessary training materials.
“My experience at Carl’s Jr. left me feeling hopeless,” Gonzalez, 42, said. “I tried to communicate the problems I experienced with my superiors, and yet the problem continued and nothing was done about it. If Andrew Puzder allowed these things to happen at a company like Carl’s Jr, how would he protect workers across the country?”
ROC described the results of its report as “no surprise,” calling Puzder “one of the most active members of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), an organization that has opposed improvements in workplace conditions and minimum wage increases around the country.”
Elizabeth Johnson, a spokeswoman for Trump’s transition team, called the report “fake news” and slammed ROC for “attempting to smear” Puzder with “leading questions and deceitful surveying tactics, such as posing as CKE corporate representatives.”
Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley, said of the transition team’s statement, “Clearly they don’t know how survey research is done.”
She added, “There is no way for us to pose as anything when we’re asking staff to voluntarily fill out a survey online.”
On Tuesday, both current and former employees of CKE Restaurants spoke to a group of Senate Democrats to share the conditions in which they are forced to work.
“[Puzder] never protected the employees at CKE when he was in charge so I don’t think he would be the person to protect American workers’ rights,” said a former general manager at Carl’s Jr.