Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., is President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of labor. Concerns over his statements on automation, workers and the minimum wage have dominated many reports on his potential nomination. Others have pointed out the violations his restaurants and franchisees have accrued during his tenure as CEO. Violations of employment and safety regulations by CKE Restaurants have not yet been compiled in a comprehensive and visual way.

Our work here with data from the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, both operating under the Department of Labor, combines the two datasets in order to demonstrate the scope of CKE Restaurants and its franchisees’ labor violations.

In the map below we have compiled CKE Restaurants and its franchisees’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations since 2000, when Puzder took over as CEO of CKE Restaurants, and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigations since 2004 (the earliest publicly available data). The map shows 166 investigations, eighty-seven (52 percent) of which yielded at least one violation. Of the seventy-two total OSHA inspections, thirty-seven (51 percent) of these inspections found ninety-one violations and 576 employees affected by violations.

All ninety-four WHD investigations since 2004 are included, fifty of which had a total of 1,082 violations, affecting 987 employees. WHD violations resulted in $145,310 in back wages paid to 877 employees from 2004–2016. Civil penalties for WHD violations amounted to $81,597, while OSHA penalties totaled $74,780, for a total of $156,377 in civil penalties affected between the two regulatory groups. According to the data, 1,563 workers were exposed to WHD or OSHA violations.


Thirty-two serious violations were found in nineteen OSHA inspections, defined by OSHA as a “workplace hazard [that] could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation.” On February 18, 2014 at a Hardee’s in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, an 18-year-old sustained third degree burns on her ankle from a container of hot oil left in the middle of a hallway. A Carl’s Jr. employee at a Buena Park, California location was instructed in July 2013 to use hot water from a Bunn dispenser at a temperature of 180–200 degrees to clean the floors. As she filled up a bucket with the water, it fell and scalded her; she was later treated at a hospital. Another employee at a San Bernardino, California Hardee’s in 2008 sustained bruises and contusions after falling into a trash compactor.

Wage and hours also found significant violations. 456 workers at Hardee’s locations owned by a subsidiary (based in St. Louis, Missouri) of the CKE corporation were owed $58,000 in back wages that were unjustly withheld from employees. Investigators found that employers had cut corners to avoid paying overtime. Other investigations found that franchisees were paying below minimum wage and withholding pay. All of these violations can be found on the map above. A separate worker survey by Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United included stories of punching-in to work later than when they began to work, not being paid overtime, and even having time cards altered to include fewer hours of work.

As with all datasets and quantitative analysis, there are limitations to this analysis. For one, the qualitative nature of certain cases are not available in the map data. However, individual cases for OSHA and WHD can be searched on Department of Labor’s (DoL) enforcement websites, which often provide more detail of violations beyond the penalties assessed and employees affected. For example, OSHA provides a detailed synopsis of all accidents reported at a workplace, and codes for violations.

The number of employees affected by the OSHA violations are conservatively estimated. The violation data for OSHA inspections lists employees affected by each violation. In order to avoid double-counting employees, we tallied the employees from the violation that affected the most workers, excluding violations with lesser amounts of affected employees.

The data also does not include cases that have not closed. As of the publishing of this work, two OSHA cases remain open that could increase our violation and penalty estimates once they are closed.

What is clear is that CKE is a representative of the kind of corner-cutting that hurts workers. That is the reason its establishments are listed. Investigations happen at these locations largely based on anonymous complaints. The fast-food industry is not subject to random OSHA inspections like the construction industry and other hazardous industries. Many WHD investigations are also initiated by anonymous complaints. Therefore, even the inspections and investigations that did not result in violations can implicitly convey employee dissatisfaction with working conditions.

CORRECTION: A previous version of the sixth paragraph implied that the information on wage theft came directly from an official WHD investigation by the Department of Labor. Rather, it came from a Restaurant Opportunities Center United survey of Carl’s Jr/ Hardee’s restaurant workers. It is been slightly updated for clarification—including a link to the Restaurant Opportunities Center United survey—as of February 1, 2017.