Puzder’s Missing Paperwork Forces Fourth Delay for Labor Nominee

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By Ben Penn and Chris Opfer

Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder’s Senate confirmation hearing is being pushed back for the fourth time thanks to ongoing paperwork delays, a Senate committee aide told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 31.

The aide said Puzder’s hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was once again postponed to allow him additional time to submit ethics and conflicts-of-interest paperwork. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., and has never served in government.

“The committee will not officially notice a confirmation hearing with Mr. Puzder until the committee has received his paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics,” the aide said. HELP Committee rules don’t require nominees to finish their OGE review prior to the hearing, but precedent is for members and staffers to access the ethics letter before voting.

Puzder has drawn criticism from Democrats and advocates who say allegations of worker abuse at CKE franchisee restaurants disqualify him from the job. He’s considered likely to get the full backing of Senate Republicans, many of whom want the Labor Department to roll back a pending overtime rule and other Obama administration initiatives.

Dispute Over Paperwork

The HELP Committee’s ranking Democrat Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), said that a fourth delay only raises further questions.

“I’ve been very concerned to see Republicans trying to jam nominees with extensive financial entanglements through the committee process,” Murray said in a statement Jan. 31. “So to be clear: if and when Mr. Puzder does produce paperwork and his hearing is rescheduled, I will expect a date to be set that allows plenty of time to thoroughly review his documents and to receive any needed follow-up information.”

Murray wrote to Puzder Jan. 25, expressing frustration over his failure to file any paperwork, such as disclosure of how he’d resolve potential conflicts of interest, responses to committee questionnaires, tax returns and an FBI background check.

Puzder did send paperwork to the independent OGE several weeks ago, but the office has yet to finalize its review specifying how he would avoid ethics conflicts.

A source close to Puzder’s hearing preparations, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused Democrats of stalling the process.

“With regards to Andy’s paperwork, the Democrats on the Committee have been moving the goal post—'bring me a rock, no not that rock, bring me another rock…,’” the source said via e-mail. “Andy has been very transparent, provided an enormous amount of detail in an effort to satisfy their requests and they continue to obstruct his confirmation process.”

The responses to Democrats’ questions are a separate filing from the OGE letter. Regarding the ethics review, Puzder and the OGE remain in communications back and forth, said the source, who declined to offer further specifics.

Murray, Warren Issue Report on Puzder

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, advanced their claim that Andrew Puzder isn’t fit to serve as labor secretary because his fast-food corporation mistreats workers.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Murray released a report Jan. 31 chronicling Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s workers’ struggles to make ends meet on low wages and erratic schedules. The study is based on 22 worker testimonials, including those of several managers who describe a system of corporate pressure to curb labor costs that sometimes generated off-the-clock violations.

“The accounts in this report make clear that workers at Mr. Puzder’s restaurants are overworked and underpaid and lack basic benefits, and that he has repeatedly refused to stand up for workers during his tenure as CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc.,” Democratic staffers wrote in the report. “They provide new and compelling evidence that Mr. Puzder is unqualified to lead the Department of Labor.”

Warren and Murray are likely to cite the report along with other workplace accusations when they question Puzder at his hearing. Workers at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s franchised restaurants in 10 states filed complaints last week, alleging wage-and-hour violations, sexual harassment and intimidation for union-related activity.

About 95 percent of Puzder’s stores are franchised to independent owners, an argument the nominee is likely to raise at his hearing to avoid responsibility for the allegations. The Warren-Murray report doesn’t clearly distinguish whether the interviewed workers were employed at a franchise or company-owned store.

“It’s unfortunate that the deliberate attacks from the Democrats and their special interests will persist because of those bent on obstructing President Trump’s nominees,” George Thompson, a Puzder spokesman, said in a statement. “Andy Puzder is what America’s workers and small businesses need—a proven job creator.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com and Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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