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Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.

It was announced that President-elect Donald Trump (how those four words still curdle in our throat!) will be appointing Andrew Puzder as his Secretary of Labor. Even though there is no real surprise in this appointment, let us count the ways that it should scare the bejeezus out of anyone who roots for the working class.

Firstly, Andrew Puzder is a deregulation fiend, a fanatic, who doesn’t believe in the salutary benefits of labor laws, whether they be municipal, county, state or federal. In a word, he views the overwhelming majority of labor laws (including the landmark National Labor Relations Act) as impediments to doing business.

As a consequence, he doesn’t believe it’s the federal government’s place to establish a “minimum wage” (like any other “free market” fundamentalist, he believes the marketplace should freely determine an employee’s rate of pay on a case by case basis), but if the feds insist on doing so, that figure should be no higher than $9 per hour, which amounts to $18,720 annually for someone working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

Secondly, as CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns, among other things, the Carl’s Jr. hamburger chain, Andy Puzder opposes having fast-food workers and retail sales employees belong to labor unions. Considering that unions offer the triumvirate of better wages, better benefits, better working conditions, Andy’s opposition is solely profit-based. Indeed, it might be classified as the doctrine of a classic fiscal conservative. That or a “greedy bastard.”

This is unfortunate because fast-food workers and retail sales people (think of the employees of the mega- Wal-Mart corporation) are regarded by organized labor as the platform from which to launch the Second Wave of the labor movement. The First Wave was industrial; the Second Wave will be service oriented (health care and civil service jobs are already leading the charge).

Unlike vulnerable and outdated smoke-stack industries, restaurants and retail stores (of which there are many tens of thousands nationwide) aren’t “portable.” Which is to say, you can’t sell Carl’s Jr. hamburgers to customers in Peoria, Illinois, by relocating the restaurant to labor-cheap Bangladesh. This circumstance gives fast-food workers at least a modicum of leverage.

And thirdly, as Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder will be the position to kick everyone’s butt, and to do it legally. As the highest ranking (both functionally and symbolically) labor figure in the U.S., he will not only set the tone for labor-management relations during a Trump presidency, he has the right to appoint three (a majority) of the five members of the NLRB.

This is a huge responsibility. Among other things, the NLRB is charged with adjudicating critical labor disputes—those involving the very definition of workers’ rights. For instance, when a labor union, or a group of employees seeking to be represented by that union, contacts the NLRB and accuses the company of using unfair or illegal tactics to keep the union out, it falls upon the Labor Board to make a ruling, and that decision is pretty much final.

Given Andrew Puzder’s virulently anti-union sentiments, and him pulling the strings while eating hamburgers, one can only imagine how rare it’s going to be for the Board to side with labor in any crucial dispute. As Bette Davis (playing Margo Channing) famously said, “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

February 19, 2019
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