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By Stephen Lee
Dec. 9 — Restaurants in the chain managed by Andy Puzder, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Labor Department, have run afoul of workplace health and safety regulators a few times in the past.
Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows six inspections of CKE Restaurants Holdings locations over the past 10 years, with two producing violations. Both were California state OSHA cases, not federal cases.
Puzder, nominated by Trump Dec. 8, is the chief executive officer of CKE. The company owns more than 3,300 restaurants, including the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains.
Across all Hardee’s and Carl Jr. locations there were at least 27 OSHA inspections over the past 10 years. Almost all involved state program inspections prompted by complaints or accidents, as is typical of the fast food industry.
“Mr. Puzder’s record indicates that he will not support proposals that strengthen worker health and safety protections,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “He has gone as far as to say that he prefers machines over working people 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.’”
Trump said in a statement that Puzder “will fight to make American workers safer and more prosperous by enforcing fair occupational safety standards.”
The fast food sector is not known to be the most dangerous industry, but workers still face a variety of workplace hazards on a day-to-day basis.
Workers contend with splattering cooking oil, hot grills, wet and slick floors, a lack of even the most basic protective equipment, missing or inadequate first aid kits and an absence of safety training. Last March, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health found that 80 percent of all fast food workers had suffered burns during the previous 12 months.
“If Mr. Puzder is nominated as Secretary of Labor, we’d like to hear what he’s learned about workplace safety during his tenure in the fast food industry,” said Jessica Martinez, co-director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.
To some, however, Puzder’s background could be a boon for workplace safety.
“Given Mr. Puzder’s experience with fast food workplaces, he must understand the importance of safety for all workers, even those in the smallest enterprises,” Dave Heidorn, director of public affairs and communications at the American Society of Safety Engineers, told Bloomberg BNA.
But Puzder, an outspoken critic of government regulation, is widely expected to appoint an OSHA head who will stifle current agency rulemakings and slow the pace of future rulemakings, possibly stopping them altogether.
“He’s definitely for less government, definitely for less regulation,” Louis Chodoff, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, told Bloomberg BNA. "[Puzder and Trump] both think that’s the way to stimulate the economy: to take the shackles off business, whether it’s OSHA regulation, [Environmental Protection Agency] regulation, or wage and hour regulation. Unshackle business and let it grow.”
David Michaels, the current head of OSHA, told Bloomberg BNA earlier this month that he felt confident the Trump administration will continue to be an aggressive enforcer of workplace laws.
But Chodoff said he was far less certain that Puzder would try to strike a middle ground between labor and management.
“I don’t see many centrists [among Trump’s cabinet nominations],” he said. “Because Puzder doesn’t have any government experience, there’s not a lot to look back on and say, ‘This is what we think he’s going to do when he gets to the office.’ But we can look at his musings as a business leader, and they don’t seem very centrist to me.”
—With assistance from Bruce Rolfsen
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