UPDATE (3:55 p.m.): Andrew Puzder says he is withdrawing as President Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary.
The fast food executive says in a statement provided to The Associated Press that he was “honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity.”
Puzder says “while I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team.”
Puzder’s confirmation hearing was scheduled for Thursday. But some Republicans had raised concerns about his failure to pay taxes for five years on a former housekeeper who wasn’t authorized to work in the U.S.
Earlier, Labor Department employees were registering their concerns ahead of the confirmation hearing for the man who might be their next boss. A letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, made the rounds via email and social media, collecting signatures.
The letter discloses a number of misgivings about Puzder’s fitness for the job.
“We believe that three specific factors disqualify Mr. Puzder from serving as the head of an agency whose primary mission is to protect America’s workforce: (1) Mr. Puzder’s own business practices; (2) his derisive public comments about his restaurants’ employees and other low-wage workers; and (3) his equally troubling public comments and behavior towards women,” the letter said.
The letter goes into more detail on each concern.
The first issue, Puzder’s business practices, refers to his company, CKE Restaurants. Its franchises, especially Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., have frequently been targets of the Labor Department for violations. It notes that since Puzder took over in 2000, the number of federal discrimination lawsuits brought against the company has increased.
“The Secretary of Labor should be someone who exhibits exemplary behavior as an employer, not someone for whom violations of employment laws is routine,” the letter said.
It suggests that violations, while technically the fault of the franchisee rather than the franchisor, are often exacerbated by incentivization from the parent company. The letter also notes that should the parent company wish to encourage franchises to comply with regulations and reduce violations, there are methods they can use to do so.
“Most franchise agreements require franchisees to comply with the law and not to generate negative publicity. We are not aware of any instances in which Mr. Puzder elected to use such provisions to curb the unlawful behavior of his franchisees,” the letter said.
The letter also takes issue with comments Puzder made regarding potential future automation and how it would be desirable over a human workforce because machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
“We fear that Mr. Puzder’s comments evince hostility to the enforcement of workers’ rights that is antithetical to the public-facing role that the Secretary of Labor must play,” the letter said.
Such a message, the letter said, would undermine DoL’s mission of promoting welfare, rights and better working conditions for workers.
Finally, the letter takes issue with the overt sexualization and exploitation of women that tends to pass for an advertising strategy at his company.
“He not only said that ‘I don’t have a problem with our ads,’ but even went so far as to boast that his brand has taken on his own personality. Mr. Puzder unapologetically declares, ‘ugly ones [i.e., women] don’t sell burgers.’ A nominee to become the Secretary of Labor should be ashamed of having made such a statement,” the letter said.
The letter also cites allegations of domestic violence made by his ex-wife as something that makes DoL employees “worry that Mr. Puzder is incapable of fostering a supportive and fair workplace for the thousands of women who work at the Department and the millions of working women across our nation.”
The letter ends with an appeal to lawmakers to vote against Puzder’s confirmation, and offers current and former DoL employees an opportunity to sign. It’s not clear at the moment how many have done so.
The office of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, responded with a statement after Puzder withdrew his nomination.
“Andy Puzder has the experience and ability to make an excellent Labor Secretary, but I respect his decision. He understands the difficulties American workers face in a rapidly changing workforce and I look forward to continuing to hear his insights,” Alexander said.