Secretary of Labor: Who Was Andrew Puzder?

Friday, February 17, 2017
Andrew Puzder

Andrew Puzder, an attorney who went on to lead a fast-food company and campaign against workers receiving an increase in minimum wage, was nominated on December 8, 2016, to serve as Secretary of Labor.


On February 15, 2017, Puzder withdrew his nomination after loss of support from Republican lawmakers made it apparent that he wouldn’t have enough Senate votes to be confirmed. The reasons for his dwindling support were varied, including his employment of an undocumented immigrant as his housekeeper and the resurfacing of 1988 claims by his ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, of violent physical assaults. A videotape of Fierstein’s 1990 appearance, in disguise, on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” in which she recounted the abuse, circulated among senators considering Puzder’s nomination.


Puzder’s confirmation hearing had been rescheduled four times over the course of a month, primarily due to delays in his filing required documents—including financial disclosures—to a Senate panel.


Puzder is from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and was born July 11, 1950 to Winifred and Andrew Puzder. He began college at Kent State University, but dropped out in 1970 to play in a rock band. He married Lisa Henning and they had two children together. He also went back to school, this time at Cleveland State, and earned a B.A. in history in 1975. Puzder then went to law school at Washington University in St. Louis, earning his degree in 1978.


Puzder went to work as a trial attorney at the law office of Morris Shenker in St. Louis. In 1984, he moved to the Stolar Partnership law firm.


While practicing in Missouri, Puzder became known for his work for anti-abortion causes. He was the chairman of then-Governor John Ashcroft's Task Force for Mothers and Unborn Children. A law Puzder helped write became the basis for the court case Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, in which state restrictions on abortions were allowed by the Supreme Court and gave Puzder a good reputation among those who believed in “family values.”


As Webster was working its way through the courts, Puzder’s marriage was having problems. His wife said he had abused her. On one occasion, Puzder said, regarding an incident for which the police were called, that he’d pushed his wife “to prevent her from hurting herself,” according to The Riverfront Times. In seeking a restraining order in 1986, Puzder’s wife said that in a subsequent incident, he “attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head pushed his knee into my chest twisted my ar​m and dr​agged me​ ​on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back.” Puzder told The Riverfront Times regarding that charge that “There wa​s​ no physical abuse at any point in time.” However, a consent order was signed that prohibited Puzder from entering the second and third floors of their home and Mrs. Puzder from entering the basement. The Puzders divorced in 1987. In November 2016, just as Puzder was about to be announced as Donald Trump’s choice to be Labor Secretary, Puzder’s ex-wife walked back the charges, telling Puzder in an email “You were not abusive.”


Puzder began an association with Carl Karcher, who founded the Carl’s Jr. fast-food chain, in the early 1990s when he represented him in an insider trading suit. Soon, he was doing more work for Karcher, a virulent anti-abortion advocate. Puzder joined the firm of Stradling, Yocca, Carlson and Yauth in California in 1991. From 1995 to 1997, Puzder was general counsel for Fidelity National Financial.


In 1997, Puzder went into the fast-food business full time when he was named executive vice president and general counsel for CKE Restaurants, which owned Carl’s Jr. CKE bought Hardee’s, a fast-food chain centered in the South and Midwest in 1997, and in 2000 Puzder was put in charge of turning around the struggling business. Later that year, he was made president and CEO of CKE.


Puzder’s strategy was to move the chains’ focus from drawing in families, a space occupied by McDonalds, Wendy’s and other hamburger restaurants, and instead target young men. That plan eventually resulted in Carl’s Jr. and Hardees using bikini-clad models prominently in their commercials, culminating in a spot with Paris Hilton washing a luxury car while eating a hamburger. The commercials drew criticism from some Southern Hardees franchisees, but were popular with young men, their target audience. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” Puzder has said.


While Puzder and his franchisees did well, their employees weren’t as lucky. Several franchisees were fined by the Labor Department, the very organization Puzder has been nominated to lead, for not paying employees properly.


An analysis of federal employment discrimination lawsuits by the website Capital & Main found that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants had the highest number of complaints among the nation’s biggest burger chains since Puzder took control of CKE in 2000.


And when people attempted to push through an increase in the minimum wage, Puzder fought back. He gave $10,000 in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to fight a 2006 Nevada ballot measure that raised that state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15. Puzder is still fighting against living wages. He has said he’d support what he calls a “reasonable” increase of the minimum wage, perhaps to $9 an hour, but claims that setting it at $15 would lead to fewer jobs.


CKE was taken private by equity firm Apollo Global Management in 2010 for $694 million and in 2013 Roark Capital Group bought the company, keeping Puzder on as CEO.


Puzder supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. In 2016, Puzder and his current wife, Deanna Descher, gave the Trump campaign $332,000.


Puzder has six children and six grandchildren.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Under Labor Secretary Nominee Puzder, Company Hit With Race Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Lawsuits (by Robin Urevich, Capital & Main)

This Is How Much Trump’s Labor Pick Dislikes Minimum Wage Hikes (by Will Evans, Reveal)

Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Tried to Overturn Roe v. Wade. He Almost Succeeded. (by Hannah Levintova, Mother Jones)

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s Pick for Labor Department, Was Accused of Abusing Wife (by Sarah Fenske, Riverfront Times)

Trump’s Pick For Labor Was Accused Of Domestic Abuse In The ’80s (by Allegra Kirkland, Talking Points Memo)

Trump Names Andrew Puzder, a Fast-Food CEO and Critic of Substantially Raising the Minimum Wage, to Head the Labor Department (by Jonnelle Marte, Washington Post)

Finding His Blue Ocean (by Julie Bennett, Franchise Times)


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