Two perspectives: A CEO and a front-line McDonald’s worker


December 29, 2016

Editor’s note: The following blog post is authored by Kenan Heise, a Chicago journalist who has for decades illuminated the lives of poor people in his morally powerful writings. He has written for the Chicago Tribune and other major daily papers; he founded the “The Neediest Children’s Christmas Fund” in 1969 with the help of other reporters. Now run as the WGN Neediest Kids’ Fund, it has raised more than $60 million over the years. His work is all about justice as well as charity, showing the human truths underlying the need for a government role to alleviate poverty. Heise is the author of several books, including The Book of the Poor (2012) and his autobiography, He Writes About Us (2015), both published by Marion Street Press.)
Andrew F. Puzder is chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc. with a total of 3,664 franchised or company-operated restaurants. CKE is the parent company of the Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Green Burrito, and Red Burrito quick-service restaurants.

On Dec. 9, President-elect Donald Trump chose Puzder to become Secretary of Labor. The stated policies he would push for in that position can be expected to affect fast-food employees’ wages. He also has called for adopting automation to replace them.

Justine R., a Chicago mother of two little girls, recently quit her job as manager of a McDonald’s fast food restaurant, the position she worked her way up to over 10 years, attending more than five seminars at McDonald’s University.

McDonald’s is not a part of the CKE line of restaurants, but the two entities belong together on a fast-food restaurant chart – with the chief of CKE going one way while so many like Justine go the other way.

Puzder has gained incredible wealth for himself while campaigning to limit the minimum wage for others and campaigning to use automation to replace workers in his franchises.

Justine, on the other hand, managed 40 individual working people, while earning only $11 an hour. A major part of her concern was listening to and managing her staff, most of whom earned Chicago’s minimum wage of $8.75 an hour.

Justine had a strong allegiance to the company, hoping at some point to teach at McDonald’s University. She graduated from one of Chicago’s premier Catholic girls high schools and had, even on her low salary, regularly attended classes at a community college. Her wages did not permit her to continue long enough there to attain her degree.

When she started 10 years ago at McDonald’s, she was earning $6.50 an hour. She was promoted from crew member to crew trainer, shift manager, assistant store manager and finally store manager, overseeing its day-to-day operations.

He is in opposition to a national minimum wage of $15, stating that it would hurt small businesses and lead to job loss.

His concern about job loss, however, proved to be talking out of both sides of his mouth—based on a New York Times article, which quoted his speech—since he favors automation in place of employees. Among the reasons which he gave were that machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

He has objected, according to the same article, to updating eligibility for overtime pay and to paid sick leave policies of the sort recently enacted for federal contractors.

Justine recently reflected on Pudzer’s nomination for Secretary of Labor.

She spoke about her fellow low-paid workers from an entirely different perspective than did the Labor Secretary nominee.

“Lots of them,” she said, “have small children, but could not afford babysitters or day care on their wages. As it is, they were working six days a week, 10 hours a day to put food on their tables and to attempt to pay the rent.”

“It’s just not fair,” Justine said. “The majority of employees in fast-food restaurants have a hard struggle. Struggling to make it on a minimum wage is no way to live, but neither is automating them out of the only jobs they can find. Then, they wouldn’t be able to feed their families at all.

“Many of them are from other countries, where their struggles were terrible. I often broke through the language barrier to converse with them. They found after they came here, they were still screwed.

“If I had a vote, I most certainly not vote for him, but I do not.”

She is right. She does not have a vote. Senators alone vote on Cabinet-level appointments. Workers in fast food restaurants and other minimum wage jobs across the country can only hope that enough Senators use their consciences when they cast their votes—and consider more the general welfare of low-wage workers as the preamble of the Constitution provides and less the idea of making money off people who are all but serfs.


Andrew Puzder
Job Training and Education
Labor and Employment
minimum wage
paid leave
Poverty and Income