Restaurants run by Trump’s pick for US labor secretary regularly serve up female objectification

“I think it’s very American.”
“I think it’s very American.”
Image: Reuters/ Mike Segar
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Editor’s note: An earlier headline on this story and language contained in the article incorrectly suggested the ROC survey was a representative sample of female employees of CKE. Both have been fixed.

“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”

That’s what Andrew Puzder, US president-elect Donald Trump’s nomination for labor secretary—and the current CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of chains including Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s—said in defense of highly sexualized Carl’s Jr. ads that have been compared to porn on many occasions.

The attitude is common in the fast food industry, where sexual harassment is ubiquitous: 40% of women working in the US fast-food business said they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior, in a 2016 survey conducted by Washington-based firm Hart Research Associates.

Recently, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, an advocacy group that aims to improve wages and working conditions in America’s restaurant workforce, conducted a small survey to find out how women employed by CKE chains experienced their workplace. The group reached out to current CKE workers over social media, and 564 employees completed the survey. The respondents were self-selecting, and there are over 20,000 total CKE employees, so the survey results may not be indicative of the company as a whole, but 66% of the women surveyed said they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual behavior from a co-worker, customer, owner, manager, or supervisor while on the job.

Elizabeth Johnson, a spokesperson for the president-elect’s transition team, sent The Guardian an emailed statement calling the ROC report “fake news” that was “paid for by unions and special interests opposed to Andy Puzder’s nomination.” She went on to accuse the ROC of “attempting to smear” Puzder by “leading questions and deceitful surveying tactics, such as posing as CKE corporate representatives.”

Though the ROC survey was poorly designed, the findings are not out of line with the public record: CKE Restaurants has settled several multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits dealing with wages and working conditions brought by its employees, including at least one claim of workplace sexual harassment.