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The paradoxical reason Trump’s terrible pick for labor secretary had to withdraw

Ed. note: This post has been updated to reflect Pudzer’s withdrawal as Trump’s labor secretary pick. 

Welcome to the nightmare in which “secretary for labor” means “but actually, secretary for management.” Starring player: Andew Puzder.

Puzder’s confirmation was scheduled for Thursday, before he withdrew — and it wasn’t looking great for him, even six members of the GOP were on the fence about his nomination. His withdrawal is great, because Puzder is literally a Disney villain, if Disney were a leftist feminist and his villains evil misogynist capitalists. But before we celebrate the would-be GOP absconders, let’s consider the broader picture of why Puzder was a terrible pick for labor secretary— and why GOP reservations remain nevertheless fishy. And above all, let’s remember that workers’ struggle against Puzder and against anti-labor picks more generally is fundamentally a feminist issue—not only because low-wage workers are disproportionately women, but because intersectional feminism fundamentally requires economic justice. 

To understate, the American government doesn’t have a stellar record on labor, let alone labor organizing, and it’s done everything in its power to quash leftist aspirations (anyone else forced to read Ayn Rand in high school?). As a boss, Trump himself has epitomized this anti-labor stand, coupling a general antipathy with workers with mind-boggling sexism—as we can see from stories of women he’s harassed in professional settings to his White House dress code (barf). And he’s been countered by truly awesome (and hilarious) mobilization from his own employees and beyond. 

So no surprise, the Tangerine Monstrosity’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, was possibly worse than Trump himself. As CEO of CKE restaurants (owner of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), Puzder’s workers say his company has cheated them of their wages; he’s literally argued against federal labor regulators in court; he believes machines are better workers than people because they don’t, writes the New York Times, “take time off for lawsuits”; and he was sued for labor violations literally last week. Meanwhile, Puzder has a longstanding history of misogyny: He was an anti-abortion activist; he was previously accused of physical abuse by his ex-wife (she retracted the allegations, but they’re worth at least being aware of in light of the pattern of misogyny demonstrated by this administration). And of course, he’s responsible for those Carl’s Jr. Ads. You know, the ones that make you feel like boycotting all men forever.

“I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” Puzder is quoted as saying in this Bloomberg article.

“How do you pay somebody $15 an hour to scoop ice cream? How good could you be at scooping ice cream?”, Puzder is quoted as saying in The New York Times.

So why were several GOP members on the fence about Puzder?

Not because he showed himself fundamentally unfit to protect the interests of American workers by literally taking legal action against the interests of workers. Not because he believes women are not human beings but rather animated cavities in which to stuff meat (that was gross to write, but come on — you don’t have to do much of a semantic analysis of these commercials to get it). Nope: Because he employed an undocumented person.

The Washington Post reports that Puzder’s past employment of an undocumented person figured among the reasons for GOP reservations. Let’s make an important distinction here. Undocumented laborers face the struggle of low wage labor without the (if-limited) safeguards that state recognition provides. Their position is particularly precarious and it’s doubly incumbent on all who employ undocumented people to guarantee a living wage, equal pay and safe working conditions (including, btw, workplaces free of sexual harassment).

But if we look deeper, we can see that conservative aversion to Puzder having hired someone undocumented wasn’t about labor rights. It wasn’t about whether this person received adequate wages, good working conditions, and good-faith assistance in legal matters from their powerful employer. For those on the right, the underlying talking point here was the normal xenophobic, racist crap: That undocumented people are living off American tax payers and stealing our jobs.

The GOP took offense at Trump’s sexism during the election by appealing to the hyper-conservative notion of women as mothers, sisters, daughters, and general repositories of propriety—not because women are human beings with dignity and autonomy. In the same way, conservative aversion to Puzder’s hiring of an undocumented person dis not come from a commitment to social justice, to the rights of immigrants, and to the rights of labor — clearly, they don’t give a shit about any of these. Rather, it stemmed from Republican fear-mongering about immigration.

So let’s remember, when we talk about contesting Trumpism: It doesn’t only matter that we fight back—why we fight back is important, too.

And in lambasting the GOP, let’s not let the Dems off the hook here; it’s not like they’ve brought in the Communist Manifesto. The real heroes of the day are workers themselves, who led the struggle against not only Puzder but will continue to lead the way against the whole range of anti-labor Trump tomfoolery. In cities across America, restaurant workers and labor supporters — many affiliated with Fight for $15 — protesed the guy, many of them at his very own restaurants.

So please, whatever you’re wearing, workers and women of America, ditch the hamburgers and raise your fists high—we have the world to gain and nothing to lose but our chains. And creepy labor secretaries.

Image credit: Fight for Fifteen

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in Indian cinema, theater, and visual art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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