Hardee’s Workers Tell Conflicting Stories Ahead of Puzder Hearing

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By Ben Penn, Chris Opfer and Tyrone Richardson

Advocates on both sides of the debate surrounding Andrew Puzder’s labor secretary nomination Jan. 10 released surveys telling two competing stories about what it’s like to work in his CKE Restaurants Inc. fast-food network.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United said one-third of the more than 500 Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. workers that the group surveyed reported wage violations, among other mistreatment on the job. The worker advocacy group and its Democratic allies in the Capitol argued that the results show Puzder, who still serves as parent company CKE’s chief executive, isn’t fit to police workplaces as labor secretary.

The survey should spur a “massive investigation and charges from the U.S. Department of Labor with regard to wage theft violations,” Saru Jayaraman, ROC United’s co-director, told Bloomberg BNA. CKE-affiliated stores have agreed to fork over more than $150,000 in back pay stemming from Labor Department wage-and-hour investigations over the past 12 years, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis, but those inquiries were predominantly at franchisee-owned stores.

The Employment Policies Institute published a separate survey of its own the same morning. The industry group said 91 percent of nearly 250 employees participating in the survey agreed that Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are “great places to work” and 92 percent reported feeling “safe and respected” on the job.

“We asked them what’s the best part about working at Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, and you have things like schedule flexibility, food quality, customer-co-worker interactions,” Lloyd Corder, the founder of survey producer CorCom Inc., said on a call for reporters. “I think that’s pretty good overall.”

The dueling reports came shortly before Bloomberg BNA learned that Puzder’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has once again been pushed back (see related story). Puzder is likely to get the full backing of Senate Republicans in his bid for labor secretary, but he has come under fire from Democrats for his opposition to the DOL’s pending overtime rule and steep minimum wage increases.

Trump Team Calls Report ‘Smear Campaign.'

The surveys are likely to be cited heavily in the run-up to an eventual Senate vote on Puzder’s nomination. The CKE chief has been making the rounds at the Capitol in advance of the hearing, meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Jan. 10 that the group is “not going to stand by while a worker abuser who wants to be secretary of labor is nominated.” He added that the latest confirmation hearing delay was a “good” sign for those opposing the nomination.

“The delay is probably good news because it means that they are scared,” Ellison said. “They see us organizing, and as we organize and get our act together and we get out in the streets and we raise our voices, there might be more delays from these cast of bad public servants.”

ROC United said it received 564 responses in recent weeks from in-person interviews at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. stores and online surveys completed by people claiming to have worked at one of the franchised or company-owned restaurants. The group said 28 percent of the workers reported working off the clock, 32 percent indicated they weren’t paid overtime when working more than 40 hours in a week and 20 percent alleged being subjected to some form of discriminatory harassment.

The report didn’t distinguish responses from workers at company-owned stores and those operated by franchisees. Jayaraman said about one-quarter of participants worked at corporate outlets and revealed the same level of noncompliance.

“The Restaurant Opportunities Center survey—paid for by unions and special interests opposed to Andy Puzder’s nomination—is a flagrant example of ‘fake news,’” Liz Johnson, a Trump transition spokeswoman, said in a statement before the report was released. “In a deliberate attempt to smear CKE and Mr. Puzder, ROC used leading questions and deceitful surveying tactics, such as posing as CKE corporate representatives, to fabricate results that are the definition of ‘fake news.’”

ROC United says it represents some 18,000 restaurant employees and is not a union. The group surveyed participants via social media ads targeted to people who said they worked at one of CKE’s brands and confirmed some participants’ employment by calling contact numbers they provided.

The EPI survey was based on phone interviews conducted by CorCom with a list of workers provided by EPI.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com; Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com; Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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