Looking ‘Under the Hood’ of the New Administration: Trump’s Labour Pick on Unions and the Public Sector


Who is Andy Puzder, Trump’s nominee for the post of Labour Secretary? I read his book, Job Creation: How it Really Works and why Government Doesn’t Understand It to see if I could learn something about his worldview. What I discovered was a right-wing, capitalist manifesto built on the thesis that the public sector is bad and the private sector is good.

This worldview revolves around the idea that “private enterprise, unencumbered by excessive government intervention, will create jobs”. He makes no account for systemic inequalities or market failures.

Puzder on the Public Sector

Throughout the book, Puzder criticises and insults public sector workers. He clearly implies, for example, that those who work in the public sector are stupid. He says that his intention in writing the book was to make “the case for job creation so easy to understand, even a local, state, or federal bureaucrat should be able to get it”. He writes that “their only experience is picking up their taxpayer-funded paychecks”. “They are literally unable to comprehend how American private enterprise works”, he writes. “They supposedly have the intellectual credentials to formulate policies and lead the economy, but in reality, they don’t ‘get it’ at all”.

He also implies that public sector workers are lazy. He argues that, because profit-making is not the primary focus of many public sector workers, “the incentives to be productive are limited”. Based on this, he assumes that public sector workers do not work hard. He writes that “employee inefficiency will generally increase the need for additional employees thereby further easing the workload on existing employees”. Because workers supposedly lack the “incentive to maximise employee efficiency”, he argues, “harder work generally will result in resentment from co-workers who prefer to work less diligently”. Government jobs, he writes, are jobs “where superior performance has limited benefits and retirement with a government pension is the goal”.

Furthermore, Puzder argues that public sector workers effectively sponge off the private sector. He writes that “while private sector employees are tax producers, government employees are tax consumers”. He says that they are “stuck – no, entrenched – in this ‘public sector rationale,’ completely at the expense of the private sector realities”. He bemoans the public sector “bureaucracy that currently deems its mission to control or extinguish the American entrepreneurial spirit”. He says that “the business of America should be business, not bureaucracy”.

Puzder claims that public sector workers take government jobs because they are too afraid to try and make a living in the private sector. He writes that “people who enter government service generally do so … because they are risk averse and such positions appear to be relatively secure”. He worries that “young would-be entrepreneurs will inevitably choose the safety and comfort of government employment – and do so with all the drive that is generally thought to be ‘good enough’ for that kind of work”.

Finally, Puzder argues that there are too many public sector workers in the US and that they are paid too much. He writes about “a massive bureaucracy so extensive it is almost beyond control”. Puzder condemns “the increasing size of the federal work force”, the fact that “the number of federal salaries over $100,000 per year has increased by nearly 50% since the beginning of the recession” and that “the average federal worker earns 77% more than the average private-sector worker”. He worries that “until the government runs out of money or the ability to borrow, more and more young Americans will grow more accustomed to a system where the government pays better wages, offers the best job protection, allows the earliest retirement, and guarantees the most lavish pensions”.

Puzder’s brand of ideology has already become manifest in the new administration. Trump has frozen all federal hiring except military.

Puzder on Unions

Puzder comes across as fiercely anti-union. He writes, for example, about supposed historical “instances where powerful labor unions have abused employers”. He claims that FDR (Roosevelt) made “concessions to labor unions” which “hiked the unemployment rate”. He also heavily criticises the Employee Free Choice Act – a law which would make it easier for employees to join unions. He refers to it as “another Obama administration agenda item that has businesses reconsidering whether to grow and looking to retrench”. He worries that the law would “compel employers to recognize a union”.

He also criticizes the fact that the proposed legislation would introduce “binding arbitration”. He claims that this would bring about a situation where “a panel of government arbitrators lacking any understanding of the employer’s business could impose a two year contract … on that employer”. He  goes on to say that “empowering unions can increase labor costs to the point of putting employers in or near bankruptcy”.

Puzder on Welfare

Puzder is severely critical of government welfare programmes. He writes that “ultimately we must turn government away from penalising the successful to compensate those who are not”. Welfare in Puzder’s mind consists of “taking wealth from those who are productive and giving it to those who are unproductive”. He argues that the notion of welfare comes from “a seemingly politically correct egalitarian philosophy” but says that the idea “there can be no losers in a competitive market is entirely misguided”.

He worries about the “ever increasing number of people who feel entitled to government benefits”. He says that “the greater the extent to which a government takes care of its citizens, the greater the potential that it will create a form of dependence”. He implies that people should be ashamed about receiving state benefits. “Pride”, he writes, “is not something you get from your parents giving you money or, later in life, from the government doing so”.

Puzder’s suggestion for dealing with systemic inequality revolves around the notion that poor people ought to rely on the goodwill and charity of the rich. He writes that “the elderly, the disabled, the infirm, the impoverished or those who, for reasons beyond their control, are unable to participate in the free enterprise system, should be able to rely on the generosity of those who can”. Even then, though, Puzder warns the wealthy against being too generous: “you can feel better about yourself and go about life believing you are a good and giving person. Others may look up to you as a humanitarian and a charitable soul. But what have you really done other than delay the day when people will have to catch their own fish”

Puzder on the Environment

Possibly the most alarming element of Puzder’s ideology relates to the environment. If, as he claims, he wishes to increase security and certainty for private enterprise, then it seems odd that he would recommend actions that could plunge the very existence of the world into existential uncertainty. One of his fundamental recommendations is to “aggressively expand domestic oil production”. He argues that “this exploration and development must occur in America’s clearly identified untapped offshore reserves, as well as the significant potential oil reservoirs within the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge”.

Moreover, Puzder attacks the Obama Administration’s attempts to introduce what are called ‘cap and trade’ measures. These measures represent a flexible approach to environmental regulation. Puzder writes that “whether by hook or crook or stretching the EPA’s regulatory authority to breaking point, this Administration intends to continue to push Cap and Trade measures. As with ObamaCare, the Administration’s pursuit of Cap and Trade initiatives creates broad based uncertainty inhibiting investment and job creation. The impact such a measure would have on our economy is extremely difficult to predict beyond the very obvious prediction that it would be serious and detrimental”.

Finally, Puzder attacks what he calls “so-called clean energy”. With regard to Ethanol, he writes that “the government cannot decide in Washington that ethanol will be the next alternative energy of choice. The market will decide if a reasonable fuel can be produced relative to the costs of the corn and other raw materials, the manufacturing process, the distribution channels, and of course the performance in a wide range of vehicles. If it cannot compete with the ease of use, range of transportation, distribution and cost of $3.00 per gallon gasoline, then Ethanol is NOT a viable product”. In relation to solar power, meanwhile, he writes “politicians have been taking numerous photo-opportunity PR-tours of California solar panel manufacturing plants in an effort to generate a positive outlook for this industry” he goes on to say that “the only reason” that solar power would be adopted is “if these panels are a truly competitive alternative energy product in the market”.

The picture that emerges from all of this is a bleak one. This is the kind of ideology that underpins the Trump Administration. Puzder is (or was) President and CEO of CKE Restaurants, a parent company to a number of fast food brands. It is telling that, in the book, he boasts that “our company spent $312 million on restaurant level labour directly employing about 23,000 people in our domestic restaurants”. That’s an average of $13,565 (or €12,726) per employee per year. The basic message in the subtext of Pudzer’s book is this: take one solid public sector job and break it into three badly paid precarious private sector jobs.