President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., as his pick to lead to the Department of Labor. Puzder, who is on the board of the International Franchise Association, has criticized many of the policies of the Obama Labor Department and is expected to roll back regulations if he is confirmed.
The fast food CEO’s nomination, which brings potential conflicts of interest, could potentially lead to federal support for business efforts to influence the political choices of their employees. Puzder is a member of the Job Creators Network (JCN), a non-profit organization started by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and former presidential candidate Herman Cain that seeks to equip businesses with tools to influence the political choices their employees make.
JCN, which issued a press release last month endorsing Puzder for the Labor position and praising his “understanding of how labor regulations prevent small businesses from hiring and thriving,” has developed an Employer to Employee (E2E) communications program to help companies enlist their employees as political advocates. Beyond speaking out on behalf of JCN on issues like the Affordable Care Act, Puzder has incorporated the organization’s materials into his own company.
According to presentation slides obtained last year by CREW, CKE’s Hardee’s used JCN’s E2E materials at its corporate headquarters and Puzder himself would personally encourage franchisees to implement the program as well.
JCN presents its efforts as focused on “paychecks, not politics,” but the slides reveal that the organization, and its president Alfredo Ortiz, also promoted the E2E program as being influential on employee voter turnout and choice.
As CREW noted last year, Nipro Diagnostics, a medical device company now called Trividia Health whose CEO is also a member of JCN, allowed JCN to poll its employees before and after being exposed to JCN’s E2E materials. Not only did the poll show that the E2E efforts shaped employee opinions on issues like whether the corporate tax rate should be lowered, but also their voting choices. A quarter of the surveyed Nipro employees who voted in the 2014 midterm elections said that the E2E materials influenced how they voted, according to the presentation.
Most of the organization’s materials focus directly on policy and only implicitly relate to politics, but the group has put out some aggressive materials in the past. In 2012, an early version of JCN created a voter guide that was distributed to employees of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. The pamphlet, which emphasized to employees that voting is important to “protect your job,” criticized Democratic candidates while praising Republicans.
It is unclear whether and how Puzder might use his position as Secretary of Labor to promote the use of such materials, but it is likely that with the agency under his watch American workers could expect to hear even more from their bosses about politics in the next four years.