Restaurant Lobby Opens Legal Shop Amid Hardee’s Protests

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By Ben Penn and Rhonda Smith

Restaurant workplace advocacy heated up on both sides Jan. 12, as the industry’s lobby launched a litigation center amid protests staged at the fast-food network operated by Trump’s labor secretary pick.

The National Restaurant Association has for more than two years planned an in-house legal arm—similar to that of other trade groups—aimed at unwinding Obama administration labor rules. The Restaurant Law Center opens just as business leaders are set to be sworn into the White House and various executive branch positions.

Also on Jan. 12, a union-backed fast-food organizing campaign scheduled marches and rallies nationwide to demonstrate that poor working conditions at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. stores is evidence that the head of the brand’s parent company isn’t qualified for labor secretary. Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder is chief executive officer of the conglomerate CKE Restaurants Inc.

Puzder is facing strong opposition in the nomination process, in part because he’s criticized a recently finalized rule to expand workers’ access to overtime pay. Filing an amicus brief in support of litigation to void the department’s overtime regulation will be one of the first orders of business for the new law center, executive director Angelo Amador told Bloomberg BNA.

CKE was one of the litigation center’s charter members, but a spokesman told Bloomberg BNA the company won't be involved in a “leadership role” as Puzder awaits Senate confirmation.

If confirmed, Puzder would represent an important administration ally for the legal center’s efforts. The prospect of a more employer-friendly White House and Labor Department under President-elect Donald Trump is encouraging but doesn’t mitigate the project’s necessity, Amador said.

“The work of the law center is still needed. We hope to be able to work with the administration so that it will be taking positions that are not so antagonistic to ours,” he said.

Tip-Pool Rule to Be Challenged

The center is also planning to ask the U.S. Supreme Court next week to review a 2011 Labor Department tip-pool rule that bars restaurants from allowing waiters to share tips with dishwashers and other back-of-house staff.

The law center’s charter members include chief legal officers of restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You, the Golden Corral buffet chain and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.

Amador said that forming this new office benefits the NRA in two primary areas: It can be more proactive in selecting cases based on what restaurant general counsels are prioritizing, and there is built-in funding from members. “We don’t need to worry about the check clearing before we file,” he said.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce already have legal action centers with similar missions. But there are some niche, restaurant-specific cases like the tip-pool rule that the Chamber doesn’t have the bandwidth to take, Amador said.

“We are the second-largest private sector employer; I think it’s important for our voice to be heard,” he added.

Protests in 27 Cities

Meanwhile, opposition to Puzder’s nomination as labor secretary was scheduled to take place during worker-led protests in across the country. The CKE chief is expected to remain in his role through the confirmation process.

Cashiers and cooks at CKE’s two restaurant chains—as well as fast-food workers affiliated with the Fight for $15 movement—planned to protest against Puzder’s nomination, organizers said. Rallies were to be held in front of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s eateries as well as at DOL offices in various states.

“Workers like myself and especially the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. workers are outraged about Trump’s selection for labor secretary,” Terrence Wise, a member of the Fight for $15’s national organizing committee, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 12. “We know he’s going to speak for the mega-rich and not for working people like myself.”

Wise works at a McDonald’s restaurant in Kansas City, Mo.

“Puzder signals the next four years will be about low pay,” Wise sad.

Workers, backed by the Service Employees International Union, launched a grassroots campaign on Nov. 29, 2012, that today is known as Fight for $15. Their goal is to increase hourly wages to $15 in the fast-food and other industries. They also want to be able to join a union without fear of interference or retaliation from their employers.

Cities where protests were scheduled to take place included Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com and Rhonda Smith in Washington at rsmith@bna.com

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

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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