Democrats to attack Labor nominee's employee treatment

Story highlights

  • Workers from CKE restaurants will speak about mistreatment they experienced
  • Democrats have criticized Puzder's nomination

Washington (CNN)Democrats looking to attack President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, unveiled new findings Tuesday detailing the work environment at restaurants in his fast food empire.

A pro-worker organization, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, unveiled its report Tuesday afternoon, followed by a second news conference with prominent Democratic senators including Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren and Washington's Patty Murray.
At the events, workers from CKE restaurants, which include Carl's Jr. and Hardees, spoke about mistreatment they experienced working at the fast food locations.
    ROC United conducted a survey of CKE employees, recruited by social media, for their report. Though their sample is unscientific, the responses of the more than 500 employees who returned their survey showed a high rate of sexual harassment from customers, being forced to work off the clock, not receiving required breaks and not getting overtime pay.
    A substantial number of those who participated also said they and their coworkers have prepared food despite being sick.
    The report did not distinguish which franchises the workers came from.
    The allegations, ROC United says, should call into question Puzder's nomination as labor secretary. The Labor Department has traditionally been the enforcer of labor laws and protector of workers. Since his nomination, Puzder has faced criticism from Democrats that he is too pro-employer and anti-worker.
    "Workers at CKE restaurants have spoken of extensive wage and hour violations and excessive rates of sexually harassing behavior from guests and customers associated with a brand that has sought to sexualize women as a hamburger-marketing tool," the report concludes. "These findings call into question the viability of Andrew Puzder for the role of the nation's secretary of labor."
    A Trump transition spokeswoman slammed the report in advance as "fake," criticizing the ROC's methods.
    "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,' " said spokeswoman Liz Johnson. "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 said it stands by its methodology.
    As part of the report, ROC United collected first-hand accounts from more than one dozen of the survey respondents, who detail the mistreatment they received.
    "It was not uncommon for coworkers of mine to come in sick," said Ashlee Sutphin of Tennessee. "I can recall multiple instances when the cooks in the back would be puking off into the garbage can and then finish up an order. Employees routinely worked while having pneumonia. We also couldn't plan when to make doctor visits because we would get the schedule on Saturday for Monday -- meaning we would only have a two day notice of our upcoming schedule."
    Sutphin and others also described grease burns suffered in the kitchen.
    "While working on the grill, many of the employees, including myself, would get burned from the grease that would shoot up from the sizzling hot grill," Sutphin said. "When I asked about obtaining burn cream to alleviate the pain, I was told that they did not have any at the time. Over time I realized that this wasn't on accident -- they in fact never had burn cream during future incidents. Basic medicinal items like a first-aid kit or band aids were absent from our store."
    A member of ROC United, Roberto Ramirez, also described working hours off the clock.
    "For many years, I started working 30 minutes before my clock-in time to make sure that I finished all my duties on time," Ramirez said. "My managers were aware that I was working those extra 30 minutes but I was never paid for that time or asked to clock in when I started working early. Managers would become very upset if I didn't finish my duties before the end of my shift, and several times they retaliated against me for it -- they would cut my hours, change my schedule or send me home early."
    Warren, Murray and 21 other Democratic senators have sent a letter to the Republican chairman of the committee that will hear Puzder's nomination asking for witnesses like the ones that will speak on Tuesday to testify before Puzder's confirmation hearing, citing accusations like those raised by ROC United.
    In a statement after his nomination last month, Warren called Puzder's nomination a "slap in the face."
    "Throughout his entire career, Andrew Puzder has looked down on working people," Warren said, "At Hardees and Carl's Jr., he got rich squeezing front-line workers on wages, overtime, and benefits, all while plotting to replace them with machines that are so much better than workers because they are 'always polite' and 'never take a vacation.' Appointing Puzder to run the federal agency responsible for protecting workers is a slap in the face for every hard working American family."
    But his spokeswoman defended Puzder as a job creator.
    "Andy Puzder has firsthand experience creating jobs and boosting the careers of thousands of Americans, and his extensive record of fighting for workers makes him the ideal candidate to lead the Department of Labor," Johnson said.