PUNCHING IN: Puzder Prep, Labor Dept. Transition

Punching In

Monday morning musings for workplace watchers

By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn


Puzder’s Hearing Prep| Landing Team Depth| Ignore Vote-a-Rama

Ben Penn: I’d be remiss if I didn’t open with a shout-out to the Bloomberg Law labor and employment team’s annual outlook issue going live today here. This is a comprehensive forecast of what we see as the major developments to expect over the year.    

Any feedback on the outlook or thoughts on additional coverage areas? We’d love to hear from you: copfer@bna.com and bpenn@bna.com, or on Twitter: @ChrisOpfer and @BenjaminPenn.

Bloomberg Law is also hosting a free webinar on some of the legal issues likely to impact the workforce of the future. The Feb. 7 event will be eligible for CLE credit and features speakers Tammy McCutchen of Littler Mendelson P.C., James Conigliaro Jr. of the Uber Independent Drivers Guild and David Rolf of the Service Employees International Union.

Now, onto the far less daunting task of previewing the next five days. And for that, I’m handing the keys over to our Capitol Hill reporter Tyrone Richardson

TR: Republicans will be seeking to undo some Obama administration labor regulations, but the exact marching orders are expected to come after Andy Puzder is confirmed, some House and Senate members told me. 

Members are expecting a combination of measures that could target some controversial rules such as the expansion of overtime to more workers and the increased disclosure requirements for retirement investment brokers. That could mean legislative actions, new rules under Puzder’s DOL, and even executive orders from President-elect Donald Trump, according to Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a former labor lawyer and a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee. 

“There's a long list of labor law issues that we want to deal with,” he said. “We are also waiting on Donald Trump to tell us what the priorities are and we expect to get that soon.”

BP: Members on both sides of the aisle (mostly Rs) have been huddling in recent days with their presumed next labor secretary. As Puzder prepares to be grilled by Senate Democrats at a Jan. 17 hearing, he’ll already know many of the topics: minimum wage, union rights, overtime expansion, automation, his company’s risqué ads, etc. 

But Democrats know they don’t have the votes to block Puzder’s confirmation. This will mostly be an exercise in demonstrating how they see Trump’s Cabinet picks as inconsistent with his campaign’s populist promises. Puzder’s only risk of remaining a full-time fast food CEO later this year would seem to be if his personal disclosures revealed anything truly incriminating. 

Chris Opfer: Puzder’s Senate hearing was pushed back a week or so partly because of an absurd event called “vote-a-rama.” It’s a marathon voting session that comes up every time the Senate considers a government budget resolution and is designed almost completely to give the parties fodder for the next election season. Every member can offer amendments to the resolution on just about any topic they choose, and many of those amendments get put to a vote over a day or so.

We will likely see Democrat-backed resolutions on raising the federal minimum wage and requiring employers to provide paid leave, for instance. The only trouble is that the provisions are nonbinding and written very generally to attract maximum support.

That’s why vote-a-rama has been discarded by many hill watchers as a complete and utter waste of time. Only this year it just so happens that the budget resolution circus is expected to come to town Wednesday or Thursday, and could throw a hitch into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s plans to mull Rex Tillerson’s secretary of state nomination. It also delays what should be an interesting HELP committee debate over Puzder.  

BP: I asked Chip Siegel, the general counsel and executive vice president of CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, whether his boss has had any time to check into the office of late. “He is focusing a significant amount of his time on the confirmation process but he also is still the CEO of the company and is still involved at the high levels of the business decision-making process,” Siegel said. In case anyone missed it, more from that interview here on CKE’s planned layoffs as the company moves to Nashville and hires new workers

And Trump’s DOL landing team appears to have wrapped up meetings with agency career staff, at least for now, to focus on briefing their nominee. Outgoing Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu told me that the transition staffers who’ve conducted some 30 meetings thus far have engaged in a “collegial and cooperative” process. But the former Obama transition director did observe that relative to eight years ago, the DOL transition is off to a slower start and includes fewer senior members. That’s a claim that members of prior Republican administrations were quick to dispute. Still, the team didn’t seem to start off with the same level of agency experience as Obama’s crew (Seth Harris, Ed Montgomery, Michael Kerr).

So, what about the more recent landing team addition of Eric Dreiband, deputy WHD administrator and EEOC general counsel under Bush? Wage-and-hour issues, such as how to address the overtime rule, are going to be among the first key decisions Puzder will need to make at DOL. It seems that by bringing Dreiband into the fold, Loren Smith, the DC consultant and Bush-era DOL public affairs aide who is directing the landing team, could be attempting to help Puzder in moving quickly – and aggressively – on that front. [Disclosure: Eric Dreiband is a member of Bloomberg BNA's Labor and Employment Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that will enable Bloomberg Law to create insightful products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers.]

CO: Speaking of aggression, it’s safe to say the Labor Department is not happy with Google. The DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs sued the tech giant last week. The Labor Department wants an administrative law judge to force the company to turn over employee pay data requested as part of a random audit of contractors. If Google continues to refuse, DOL wants the judge to cancel all of its government contracts.

Bloomberg Law’s Jay-Anne Casuga tells us DOL has had some success in “denial of access” cases in which the department accuses a federal contractor of failing to play nice during an audit. Getting Google debarred from the federal contracting business could be a different story.

That’s all for now. Daily Labor Report subscribers can check back in with us during the week for more info on the Trump transition, Congress and Jay-Anne’s look at OFCCP debarments. Bloomberg Law’s Jacklyn Wille is also taking a deep dive into the three hospital pension plan cases set to go before the Supreme Court. Laime Vaitkus will be looking at just how many jobs might come with the Trump infrastructure plan.

We’re punching out. See you here next Monday morning. 

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