Senators Tim Kaine and Elizabeth Warren Join Hassan Letter Calling on Puzder to Answer Questions Pertaining to Fostering Safe Work Environments
WASHINGTON – Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), all members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, have written to the nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, calling on Mr. Puzder to answer questions related to his record on and commitment to promoting the highest standards of safety for women and all workers in businesses across America if confirmed to lead the Department of Labor.
In the letter, the Senators raised concerns about the number of women in the fast-food industry who have experienced sexual harassment on the job and the significantly higher percentage of women saying they experienced sexual harassment at CKE restaurants – the restaurant company that Mr. Puzder leads as CEO – compared to the industry as a whole.
“We write with serious concerns about your business record on gender-based workplace harassment and violence, and how that would impact your ability to execute core responsibilities as the Secretary of the Department of Labor related to women’s rights and safety in the workplace,” the Senators wrote.
“One survey found that two out of every five women in the fast-food industry experienced sexual harassment on the job,” the Senators continued. “In fact, a survey by the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United found a significantly higher number of women saying they experience sexual harassment at CKE restaurants—66 percent compared to an industry average of 40 percent. This is alarming, given the future job and responsibilities you are seeking – the leader of workplace policies for all Americans.”
The Senators highlighted the important role the Secretary of Labor plays in encouraging companies to institute policies that combat gender-based violence in the workplace and foster safe work environments for all employees. The Senators urged Mr. Puzder to take issues of workplace violence seriously, and requested that he answer a series of questions on his commitment to preventing and responding to violent incidents in the workplace.
The full text of the letter is below:
February 10, 2017
c/o United States Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue
Washington DC, 20210
Dear Mr. Puzder:
As members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, we write with serious concerns about your business record on gender-based workplace harassment and violence, and how that would impact your ability to execute core responsibilities as the Secretary of the Department of Labor related to women’s rights and safety in the workplace.
Low-wage workers, the majority of whom are women, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace. Recent surveys suggest that workers in the fast food industry experience sexual harassment at much higher rates than the general working population. One survey found that two out of every five women in the fast-food industry experienced sexual harassment on the job. In fact, a survey by the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United found a significantly higher number of women saying they experience sexual harassment at CKE restaurants—66 percent compared to 40 percent. This is alarming, given the future job and responsibilities you are seeking- the leader of workplace policies for all Americans.
Should you be confirmed, you will be expected “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance their opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Given the surveys of your employees, your public statements and experiences related directly by your employees, we write to seek further information about your record on and commitment to promoting the highest standards of safety for women and all workers as Secretary of Labor.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there are more than 43,000 workplace rapes and sexual assaults a year. The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence found that 21 percent of full-time employees were victims of domestic violence and 74 percent had been harassed at work. These numbers are vastly underreported as women and men experiencing these crimes fear retaliation or are discouraged from reporting. Victims may experience stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other negative health effects. These negative health consequences impact their ability to perform on the job and provide for themselves and their families. In spite of this, the majority of U.S. companies do not have a formal workplace gender-based violence prevention or response policies.
Beyond the experience of sexual harassment, low-wage workers face extreme barriers to accessing justice. Survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment and assault lose nearly eight million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs. Abusers often use economic necessities like rent, health care, and child care to exert control over their victims. It is critical that those suffering from violence and threats have the flexibility to take time off from work to address needs like obtaining health care, appearing in court, and finding transitional housing in order to leave abusive relationships and prevent sexual assault or threats — but too often, that flexibility is not available. As Secretary, it will be your responsibility to help support these workers and keep them safe.
We believe that workers need more protections and not fewer. The Secretary of Labor should play a leadership role in encouraging companies to put in place policies to combat gender-based violence in the workplace, policies that should, among other things inform employees of their rights and resources, and provide education and awareness to help with both preventing and responding to violent incidents. No worker should have to choose between economic security and safety.
It is critical that you take these issues seriously. This requires a strong commitment to uphold and enforce necessary laws to protect workers from gender-based violence by fostering and promoting the welfare of survivors of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and stalking. To that end, We request that you answer the following questions:
1. What specific actions did you take as CEO to combat the high rate of sexual violence – harassment and assault – at CKE restaurants?
2. How have you worked with employees to ensure they understand their rights and protections under federal law?
3. Does CKE has a formal policy on prevention and response for gender-based violence in the workplace?
4. What preventive measures have you put in place to keep workers safe?
5. If confirmed as the Secretary of Labor, how will you use your experiences at CKE restaurants to inform best practices and policies for dealing with gender-based violence in the workplace?
6. If confirmed as the Secretary of Labor, will you commit to hosting a public forum with public and private stakeholders across the country to implement a national framework around gender-based violence in the workplace?
7. In your preparation to serve as the Secretary of Labor, have you met with workers at CKE restaurants to better understand this national problem? If not, will you commit to working with these workers?
8. What national stakeholders have you met with to better inform and prepare you to serve as the Secretary of Labor on gender-based violence?
This issue is very important to us. Please respond to these questions by Wednesday, February 15, 2017.