In 1990, a woman in large sunglasses and a wig appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was terrified to reveal her identity. We now know that her name is Lisa Fierstein, and she is the ex-wife of Andrew Puzder, CEO of the fast-food conglomerate CKE Holdings and Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary.
On the episode, titled “High-Class Battered Women,” Fierstein went by the name of “Ann.” Speaking to a live studio audience, she recounted what Puzder did to her once she went public with the divorce, according to a tape of the episode obtained by Politico:
The most frightening thing was leaving. Because once I made that break, once I made that public ... [Puzder] vowed revenge.
He said, “I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.” I wound up losing everything I had. He has everything. He has the Porsche and the Mercedes Benz. He was an attorney and he knew how to play the system.
The tape comes on top of other allegations that Puzder assaulted Fierstein repeatedly during their marriage. On Tuesday, the Campaign for Accountability released records from their divorce, including a 1988 disposition in which Fierstein said Puzder had “assaulted and battered [her] by striking her violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders, and neck, without provocation or cause.”
Puzder has repeatedly denied the assault claims. Fierstein has also retracted them, saying in a widely publicized letter to Puzder after his nomination in November 2016 that she only leveled them to increase her leverage over Puzder in divorce proceedings. In an additional letter sent to the Senate committee charged with vetting Puzder on February 7, Fierstein also said she regrets appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show and faulted an attorney with a “vendetta” for her decision to spread the claims against him.
Puzder has a troubling record on women beyond these allegations
Right now, every Democrat in the Senate is expected to oppose Puzder’s nomination for labor secretary. Four Republicans have come out as “firm no” votes on Puzder, and top Republicans have urged the White House to withdraw Puzder’s nomination, according to CNN’s Manu Raju:
EXCLUSIVE: Top Senate Rs have urged the WH to withdraw Puzder nomination. There are 4 firm no votes and up to 12, source says. Next on CNN— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 15, 2017
Puzder faces a rolling stream of controversies, including news that he hired an undocumented housekeeper (a fact that alone has sunk other Cabinet nominees) and a record of labor law violations at the fast-food giant he leads. But perhaps the most damaging is a separate set of accusations that Democrats plan to use to portray Puzder as having a troubling and regressive attitude toward women.
Among the most vivid examples is Puzder’s embrace of infamous graphic advertisements for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. The ads — now off the air — showed barely dressed supermodels gorging on massive burgers, and led to boycotts against Carl’s Jr. and protests. (They also did work to bolster the company’s bottom line, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.)
“We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” Puzder said in a 2011 press release, according to Fortune. “We target hungry guys, and we get young kids that want to be young hungry guys.” As late as 2015, Puzder said: "I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American."
This superficial marketing strategy extended from the television ads to the physical storefront. “No more people behind the counter unless they have all their teeth,” Puzder said in his first memo to Hardee’s managers after CKE acquired the chain in the late 1990s, according to Bloomberg.
Fast Company reports:
Former manager Ron Suckle, who worked in risk management at the Carpinteria offices, said CKE’s company culture came from Puzder: "On the executive level of CKE, it was a boy’s club, a white boy’s club. He basically treated the employees like chattel."
Democratic senators have also criticized Puzder for failing to “uphold women’s rights and safety in the workplace.” Indeed, about 60 percent of women at CKE Restaurants reported “experiencing unwanted sexual behaviors at work” — compared with 40 percent of the women in the fast-food industry overall, according to a study by the workers rights group ROC United.
"He was very rude. … If you were a white, blond cashier, you were doing a great job,” one woman told Fast Company. “If you were an overweight person, it was highly recommended that we try to get rid of you."
Puzder faces other controversies that have sunk nominees
Again, Puzder’s political liabilities extend beyond his ugly divorce and his professional record on women. And in this regard, too, Senate Democrats and their allies have built an opposition file on Puzder that they hope to throw against him if Trump does move forward with the nomination.
As I wrote earlier this month:
His record as CEO of CKE Restaurants includes a list of labor violations too long to include here in its entirety. A sampling of what Senate Democratic staffers say they’re likely to bring up at the committee hearing:
-Almost 60 percent of Fair Labor Standards Act investigations into Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s resulted in violations against the fast-food chains, according to the advocacy group Allied Progress.
-CKE has also been cited 21 times by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 2009, according to ThinkProgress.
-One survey by the workers rights group ROC United found that 28 percent of CKE workers worked off the clock. “Approximately one third reported a wide range of wage theft violations, including not receiving required breaks, and overtime pay,” the study said.
-One in five CKE Restaurants workers said they had been pressured to do their jobs in a way that could risk injury.
-Nearly one-third of them have reported working more than 40 hours a week without being paid overtime, according to the report.
The piece goes on to list further examples. With Puzder’s first committee hearing finally scheduled for Thursday, we’ll see if the record against him is enough to sink his nomination — and if even more damaging revelations come out between now and then.