Amid speculation that Donald Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, may have lost his appetite for the job, the fast food CEO’s personal financial disclosure documents are being kept from public view.
When — and if — the Office of Government Ethics releases these documents, we’ll get a clearer picture of the grand fortune Puzder has built up in his 16 years as the chief of CKE, the company behind the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains. But even the incomplete data CKE has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission make clear that Puzder has received massive rewards for exploiting his low-wage labor force.
In just the four-year period of 2009-2012, SEC filings show Puzder made $27.5 million in total compensation, with a peak haul in 2011 of $10.1 million. (After 2012, CKE no longer had to report executive compensation data because it had become privately held.) Special executive “perks” made up just a small portion of his pay, and yet these rewards dramatically illustrate the hypocrisy of Puzder’s positions on labor issues.
For example, Puzder opposes mandatory sick leave policies for workers and wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, he himself has enjoyed huge reimbursement checks from his company for medical and dental costs — above and beyond his regular employer-provided health insurance benefits. In just one year, 2009, these reimbursements totaled an astounding $61,000. In contrast, only 9 percent of CKE non-managerial staff have access to any health care benefits at all through their employer.
As CKE CEO, Puzder has been so hostile to his employees that he famously once said he’d like to replace all of them 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 reimbursed him for personal income taxes related to those trips.
To make sure Puzder travels in style, the company has forked over as much as $60,000 per year 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.
In California, where the firm has been headquartered for most of its history, Puzder bristled at state worker protections, including regulations that require a 30-minute meal break for a worker putting in a shift of five or more hours and a 10-minute break for a shift of more than four hours. Puzder has made clear he will work to strip workers of the right to even these small windows for rest or perhaps a personal phone call. By contrast, his own personal cell phone is covered by the company, at a rate that must be one of the highest in the world — as much as $4,424 per year.
CNN has quoted an unnamed Republican source saying that Puzder “may be bailing” from the cabinet competition because he’s “not into the pounding he is taking” from those critical of his labor practices at CKE. Some of that pounding took place at an emotional public forum on Capitol Hill on January 10, where three individuals with experience working for Carl’s Jr. restaurants told U.S. senators about routine incidents of wage theft and other abuses. Two days later, the Fight for $15 campaign helped organize protests against Puzder in more than a dozen cities.
It’s not hard to believe that the rumors about Puzder having second thoughts might be true. Given the level of imperial coddling he’s grown accustomed to at CKE, such public scrutiny would no doubt be a bit unsettling.