PUNCHING IN: Puzder Week, Boeing Vote

Punching In

Monday morning musings for workplace watchers

By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn


Puzder Week | GOP Roadmap for Labor, Wage Issues?| Machinists Prep Boeing Vote

Ben Penn: Buckle your seatbelts – it looks like this will finally be the week we get an even closer look at one of the president’s most contentious Cabinet candidates. OK, maybe not as close as this photo from Bloomberg Businessweek provides. The driving question this Valentine’s Eve is whether the 23 members of the Senate HELP committee will be struck by Cupid’s arrow when Andy Puzder has his turn in the box Thursday. The labor secretary nominee only needs to woo the panel’s 12 Republicans, of course, to advance to the Senate floor.

Debate over the leader of a third-tier Cabinet slot isn’t typically this provocative. But national interest in the hearing is high amid chatter that the fast-food CEO could be the one Trump Cabinet pick that Democrats succeed in blocking. Puzder’s industry pals are growing uneasy, especially after the Housekeepergate issue. The management-side sentiment: They call it organized labor for a reason. The AFL-CIO, SEIU and other unions have been public in their Puzder criticism and groups like Fight for $15 and ROC United are planning more protests this week. Trade associations are countering union attacks by showcasing Puzder’s job creation background at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Even the Chamber of Commerce, typically silent on Cabinet nominees, waded in.

Both sides have so much to gain or lose from the outcome that there seems to be no room for a position in the middle. Puzder is simply the most uniquely qualified or uniquely disqualified person for the job, depending on who’s talking. 

Chris Opfer: The Senate isn’t hogging all the action this week. House Education and the Workforce subcommittees are holding a pair of hearings that could give us a glimpse at how Republicans plan to prioritize attacks on Obama era labor and employment initiatives and what they might do to put their own stamp on the issues.

Tomorrow’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee hearing is titled “Restoring Balance and Fairness to the National Labor Relations Board.” It’s safe to say that the NLRB’s recent representation elections rule, the Specialty Healthcare decision recognizing “micro units” of workers for bargaining purposes, and the push to expand joint employer liability will all be on the docket.

While Puzder faces off with the Senate on Thursday, the Workforce Protections Subcommittee will consider “Federal Wage and Hour Policies in the Twenty-First Century Economy.” I assume that means “what to do with the overtime rule.” Subcommittee Chairman Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) recently told me he expects any decision to be on hold until Puzder is installed at the Labor Department. It will be interesting, however, to see whether GOP panel members voice any support for raising the salary threshold for overtime eligibility but to a lower level than proposed by the Obama administration ($47,476). They may instead want to return to the ceiling imposed by George W. Bush ($23,660).

BP: Byrne scheduled his hearing at the exact time Puzder will be fielding questions on the other end of the Hill. The chairman might be well-served to beam in a livestream of Puzder’s hearing in the event he spills details on his OT reg plans.  

People who represent both employers and workers monitor Senate confirmation hearings for indicators as to how DOL nominees plan to reorient the DOL’s wide scope of programs. But this Thursday is shaping up as a chaotic affair in which Puzder’s every past statement and business dealing is parsed, maybe along with some details of his personal life, without much time to discuss the future. What are Puzder’s plans on retirement and unemployment benefits, trade adjustment assistance and the other essential workforce levers that a labor secretary controls? Those answers may not arrive for weeks, or months.

Here are a few other questions that stakeholders on both sides of the aisle are hopeful, but not necessarily optimistic, that Puzder will be given a chance to address at his hearing:

  • What are your views on using federal purchasing power to regulate businesses? (In other words, will you roll back DOL rules requiring a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave for federal contractors?)
  • Who will be your picks for assistant secretaries and other senior personnel positions? Management attorneys, think tank directors, both? 
  • How do you plan to enforce minimum wage, overtime and occupational safety laws? Might the Elaine Chao era of compliance assistance get dusted off and rebranded?

Here’s a drinking game I’d recommend avoiding, unless you want someone to be scraping you off the floor a few minutes into the festivities – one shot for every time Puzder says, “Senator, I look forward to working with you on that issue.”

CO: That’s the one they were playing over at the Tune Inn during Ben Carson’s HUD hearing, right? 

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Law’s Rhonda Smith tells us that workers at a Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C., will vote Wednesday on whether to organize with the International Association of Machinists. The union has been pushing for a representation election since IAM opened an office in South Carolina three years ago, but Boeing’s dustups with Big Labor date back quite some time. The NLRB accused the company of moving its Dreamliner plant to the Palmetto State in 2011 in retaliation against union workers in Seattle. The board later dropped the case.

If you thought we were gonna get out of here without any mention of President Donald Trump, there’s a piece of Long Bridge Park over here in Crystal City that we’d like to sell you.

Bloomberg Law immigration reporter Laura Francis is looking this week at how Trump’s immigration enforcement priorities may affect employers. “Trump’s executive order on interior immigration enforcement prioritizes the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have ‘been convicted of any criminal offense’ or even ‘committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,’’’ Francis tells us. “That includes crimes related to getting a job, like using a fake Social Security number. This wide deportation priority net could have a severe impact on industries like agriculture that are heavily reliant on undocumented labor.

Trump’s tough talk could also put Puzder in a bind, given his recent disclosure that he employed an undocumented worker as a housekeeper and his previous support for easing immigration restrictions. Will it stop him from getting through the Senate? Probably not, but we should have a better idea soon.

BP: We’re punching out. Daily Labor Report subscribers can check back in with us during the week for Jay-Anne Casuga’s look at whether workplace dress codes may violate federal discrimination laws. Sean Forbes is covering moves to slow down and rethink the fiduciary rule. Martin Berman-Gorvine has the latest on strategies for implementing pay transparency. David Brandolph will dip into the new array of low-cost online options for socially responsible retirement investors. 

See you back here next Monday morning.

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