When It Comes to Economics, Incoming Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder Is a Raging Elitist

“Hello, yes, how many senses of accomplishment do the chili cheese fries cost?”

“Hello, yes, how many senses of accomplishment do the chili cheese fries cost?”

A particularly damning quote from Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, is making the rounds again. Puzder, in his role as CEO of the Carl’s Jr fast food chain, published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 against the idea of raising the overtime threshold:

…Workers who aspire to climb the management ladder strive for the opportunity to move from hourly-wage, crew-level positions to salaried management positions with performance-based incentives. What they lose in overtime pay they gain in the stature and sense of accomplishment that comes from being a salaried manager. This is hardly oppressive. To the contrary, it can be very lucrative for those willing to invest the time and energy, which explains why so many crew employees aspire to be managers.

Of course, we came very close to raising the overtime threshold last year, until an Obama-appointed judge from Texas shot it down and the incoming Trump administration — with Puzder in charge of the Department of Labor — crushed the hope of a lawsuit to save the threshold.

Here at Civic Ventures, we have made no secret of our efforts to promote overtime. Civic Ventures founder Nick Hanauer published a very influential piece in Politico back in 2014 about overtime, and then Hanauer and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich co-authored a piece for the New York Times explaining why overtime was so essential to America’s financial success in the 1950s, and why we sorely need to increase the threshold:

Today, if you’re salaried and earn more than $23,600 dollars a year, you don’t automatically qualify for overtime: That means every extra hour you work, you work free. Under the new proposed rules, everyone earning a salary of $50,440 a year or less would be eligible to collect time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week.

Reich and Hanauer call increasing the overtime threshold “a minimum wage hike for the middle class,” and that’s about right. It ensures either that workers are compensated for their time, or that workers don’t have to work more than 40 hours per week. Either way, the economy benefits because people either have more money to spend in their communities, or more time to be active members of their communities. These are real results that would happen immediately, as soon as the overtime threshold was raised.

But Puzder instead decided to fight policy with platitude. I’m going to repeat what he said because it’s so impossibly dumb that only through repetition can we understand Puzder’s worldview. Again, this is a CEO talking about his own employees: “What they lose in overtime pay they gain in the stature and sense of accomplishment that comes from being a salaried manager.”

You can’t eat a sense of accomplishment. Stature doesn’t pay the rent. It is frustrating that while Trump boosters complain about elitist progressives, a member of Trump’s prospective billionaire’s cabinet — a cabinet that will likely be wealthier than more than a third of all American households combined — is telling American workers that they are not worthy of payment for hours worked. At around the same time Puzder wrote those words, he was earning 291 times more annually than the minimum-wage employees at his restaurant, according to Forbes.

It’s pretty clear that unless he’s visited by three particularly convincing spirits on Christmas Eve, Secretary Puzder isn’t going to entertain raising the overtime threshold. This is because he knows that the money workers could be earning has, in his mind, a higher purpose: it could be funneled directly into his bank account and the bank accounts of people just like him. It’s pretty clear that Puzder believes he deserves the money more than his employees.

See, Puzder considers himself to be a job creator, even when he openly lusts after the idea of automating his restaurants so he doesn’t have to pay human beings to do work. What he doesn’t realize is that if every Puzder out there — every fast food CEO in America — were to automate their restaurants, their profits would plummet, because nobody would make enough money to frequent the restaurants. Robots don’t eat burgers.

No, it’s Puzder’s employees who spend the money that keep his restaurants open. And if he paid his employees what they deserve, they’d likely spend even more money there. But Puzder doesn’t care about details like that. He’s got his, and his friends have theirs, and everyone else? Eh. Puzder says let them eat their sense of accomplishment

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.