Restaurants run by labor secretary nominee report 'disturbing' rates of sexual harassment

From The Guardian:

by Oliver Laughland

Two-thirds of female fast food workers at restaurants operated by Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s controversial nomination for US labor secretary, experienced sexual harassment at work, a rate much higher than the industry average, a stinging advocacy survey has claimed.

Many female workers, according to the research conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Center (Roc) United, have been harassed by customers referencing the highly sexualised advertising campaigns Puzder has championed as CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of chains including Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s.

“Customers have asked why I don’t dress like the women in the commercials,” one Tennessee-based Hardee’s employee told researchers.

“I continually get notes left on tables from customers, customers flirt or ask me out,” said another Carl’s Jr employee in California. “I have also been followed outside the store by customers.”

Puzder, CEO of the billion-dollar company since 2000, has staunchly defended his company’s notorious advertising that often features scantily dressed women eating burgers in scenes some have compared to pornography, arguing in 2011: “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers.”

The rate of sexual harassment across the fast food industry is already high, with 40% of female workers reporting some form of unwanted contact, according to recent polling. But researchers at Roc United, a dedicated nonprofit that advocates for restaurant workers’ rights, argued the 66% reporting rate found among CKE employees was “disturbing”.

Puzder, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Trump campaign and the Republican party, is also an outspoken critic of increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 and the expansion of rights to overtime pay. CKE Restaurants has settled a number of multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits brought by employees in relation to pay and conditions and, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, were subject to similar class actions cases in California years later.

The Roc United study of employees also found that close to a third of the 564 workers surveyed had experienced a form of wage theft, such as failed overtime payments, inadequate work breaks and performing multiple duties without adequate compensation.

Of workers surveyed in California, where the majority of the sample was taken from, 32% said they were not given meal breaks after working more than five hours, a violation of the state’s strict worker’s break laws; 79% of survey respondents said they had served or prepared food while they were sick.

“I was constantly pressured to cut labor costs – this meant that employees were stressed out and customer service suffered because there weren’t enough employees working on my shifts,” Abel Gonzalez, a 42-year-old Carl’s Jr employee in Los Angeles, told researchers.

CKE Restaurants did not respond to a request for comment on the research findings, but Elizabeth Johnson, a spokeswoman for the president-elect’s transition team who was not contacted by the Guardian, sent an emailed statement, dismissing the report as “fake news” that was “paid for by unions and special interests opposed to Andy Puzder’s nomination”.

Johnson accused the union of “attempting to smear” Puzder by using “leading questions and deceitful surveying tactics, such as posing as CKE corporate representatives”. The spokeswoman provided no evidence for the allegations.

Jayaraman, the director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley, dismissed Johnson’s claims as “laughable” and false. “Clearly they don’t know how survey research is done,” she said. “There is no way for us to pose as anything when we’re asking staff to voluntarily fill out a survey online.”

Read more from The Guardian.