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By Ben Penn
The message from worker advocates about Donald Trump’s labor secretary choice is clear: Andrew Puzder mistreats his own employees and should thus be disqualified from office.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others took turns outlining their case for why Secretary-designate Puzder isn’t fit to lead the Labor Department. On a Dec. 22 call for reporters, the speakers’ resounding theme was that Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., has a history of actions and statements from his time in the private sector that directly contradict the department’s purpose of improving workers’ welfare.
“By nearly every measure, Andrew Puzder appears to be a uniquely unqualified choice, and stands against the very mission of the department he’s been selected to lead,” Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said on the call. “Workers deserve a secretary of labor whose priority is higher wages and good jobs for workers—not profits for big corporations that come at workers’ expense.”
Puzder runs the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food brands. He’s been a vocal critic of the DOL’s recent efforts to expand overtime pay and the agency’s calls for steep minimum wage increases, while supporting automation technology that could make some jobs obsolete.
Although Democrats and worker groups are likely to ramp up their criticism of Puzder as his confirmation approaches, a Republican majority in the Senate means Puzder will likely be installed in the Frances Perkins Building sometime next year.
Trumka urged Puzder to release CKE’s franchise contracts, worker pay and benefits data, and employee handbooks before his confirmation hearings begin.
“Unless these legitimate concerns are addressed, we will vigorously oppose Mr. Puzder’s nomination,” the labor federation president said.
Trumka cited the results of a Bloomberg BNA analysis of Labor Department investigations of Carl’s and Hardee’s stores. It found that of the Wage and Hour Division’s dozens of investigations at those brands during the Obama administration, about 60 percent uncovered at least one Fair Labor Standards Act violation.
However, those workplace audits were mostly conducted at franchised locations, not at company-owned stores.
More allegations of worker violations are on the way. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is now surveying Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. employees, Saru Jayaraman, founder and co-director of the worker center, said on the call.
Jayaraman said she has interviewed more than 100 employees of Puzder’s brands thus far. One emerging issue, especially at Carl’s Jr., is that workers report being told to work off the clock when approaching 40 hours in a week to avoid overtime pay requirements, she said. The surveyed employees also said they weren’t given breaks when working an eight-hour shift because their restaurants were short-staffed.
A full report featuring the results of the interviews will be published by ROC United before Puzder’s hearings begin, Jayaraman said.
Trump tapped Puzder Dec. 8. His confirmation hearings haven’t been scheduled but could begin as soon as early January.
Puzder’s confirmation is highly likely—thanks to the GOP having control of the Senate—barring any surprising revelations, such as from his financial disclosures or criminal background check.
But Democrats may still use the HELP Committee hearings and Senate floor debate to contrast Puzder’s background with Trump’s populist message. The strategy would be part of a broader appeal to voters that the president-elect is already walking away from campaign promises.
“I fully expect a very vigorous and thorough confirmation hearing,” Murray said.
The Trump transition team, upon learning of the news conference, issued a statement to Bloomberg BNA praising Puzder’s business experience.
“Andy Puzder was nominated to lead the Department of Labor thanks to his extensive experience creating jobs and fighting for smart policies that promote growth,” the transition team said. “CKE, a company he helped save while creating thousands of jobs in the process, has a strong record despite being burdened by over-regulation and is fully transparent with a myriad of reporting and filing requirements.”
In defending Puzder, the incoming administration simultaneously advanced its position that some Obama-era regulations need to be reconsidered.
“When it comes to rethinking existing policies, Andy’s focus will be on protecting the best interests of American workers and businesses,” the statement added.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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