The Workers Behind Andy Puzder’s Defeat Have Questions for Alexander Acosta

Senators need to determine whether the Labor Secretary nominee will advocate for American workers or alienate them.
03/21/2017 08:24 pm ET
Marc Serota / Reuters

Members of the U.S. Senate will have the chance to question President Trump’s second nominee for Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, tomorrow. But before then, workers like me – and thousands more who helped defeat Trump’s first labor nominee – have some questions of our own.

I started working at McDonald’s in Tampa, Florida, three years ago at 54 years old, after I lost a middle class job at a local courthouse during the Great Recession. I didn’t imagine I would still be working in the fast-food industry today, but where I live, low-paying jobs at companies like McDonald’s are some of the only positions around. I joined the Fight for $15 nearly two years ago when I realized that in order to have a real shot at a decent living, I would have to speak out and demand $15/hour and union rights.

Mr. Puzder made his views on workers very clear, but Mr. Acosta, an attorney and law school dean from my home state, doesn’t have the same outspoken record. That’s why workers in the Fight for $15 urge senators to ask Mr. Acosta the following questions about the most important issues on the minds of working people.

Will you support raising pay to $15/hour so hardworking Americans can feed our families and pay our bills?

Sixty-four million Americans are paid less than $15/hour. I’m one of those Americans. At 56 years-old, I’m paid just $8.50/hour, relying on a bike to get to and from work because I can’t afford a car. While some Americans spend their late-50’s planning for retirement, I’m struggling each month to stretch every penny to cover my rent and put food on the table for myself since my husband passed away. 

I’m not alone. Despite cities, states, and companies heeding our demands for higher pay, many people still struggle to live on the abysmal federal minimum of $7.25/hour. Will Mr. Acosta support workers’ calling for higher wages, or will he rig the economy even more?

Will you protect workers’ right to join together and organize in a union?

I haven’t always worked at McDonald’s. Before the recession, I cleaned courtrooms and offices at the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa Bay ― a courthouse Mr. Acosta may have argued cases in while serving as a U.S. Attorney in Florida. Though the work was physically demanding, I was paid well and had the strength of the union at my back. Now at McDonald’s, I’m fighting for the right to unionize so I can have a voice on the job.

Across the country, Republicans are cracking down on our right to organize ― passing legislation that empowers corporations and suppresses workers from speaking out. As Labor Secretary, will Mr. Acosta publicly support working people across the country who are fighting for union rights?

Will you crack down on employers who steal workers’ wages?

As Labor Secretary, Mr. Acosta will inherit a huge backlog of wage theft cases facing companies including my employer, McDonald’s. Wage theft is an epidemic in my industry: Nearly nine-in-ten fast-food workers in the U.S. report having wages stolen by their employer. This crime spree is immoral and illegal. What will Mr. Acosta do to hold accountable employers who steal from workers? 

How you will protect workers from sexual harassment and hold companies accountable?

Forty percent of women in the fast-food industry report facing sexual harassment on the job. Many women who experience harassment are too afraid to speak up out of fear of retaliation. We should not have to weigh our next paycheck against our dignity and safety at work. How does Mr. Acosta plan to hold companies accountable for the harassment that happens on his watch?

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg, but they deserve a clear response from anyone seeking to lead the Labor Department. We’ll be paying close attention to Mr. Acosta’s hearing this week, and regardless of whether he is confirmed, the Fight for $15 will continue holding this administration accountable to lift working Americans out of poverty, ensure protections for us on the job, and help rebuild the middle class.

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