Prominent Senate Democrats want employees of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees to testify during the Senate Confirmation hearing of Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder.
In a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and 21 other Democrats requested the hearing include witnesses who can provide “knowledge of and context” of the business practices of CKE Restaurants, where Mr. Puzder has served as CEO since June of 2000. CKE Restaurants owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees franchises.
Puzder’s hearing has been tentatively set for January 17, but it has not been formally scheduled on the Senate HELP committee’s hearing calendar.
The Democrats’ request comes as the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, which is charged with reviewing the financial disclosures of cabinet nominees to vet potential conflicts of interest, says the OGE has not received initial financial disclosures for several of President-elect Trump’s nominees.
In a letter to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, the Senate minority leader, and Sen. Warren, Walter Shaub, OGE’s director, said the fact that some disclosures have yet to be received and reviewed as cabinet hearings are scheduled to commence is cause for alarm.
“I am not aware of any occasion of the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process,” wrote Shaub in a letter to the Senators, which was a response to their inquiry.
OGE has published the disclosures of several cabinet nominees, including former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, nominated for Secretary of State, and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KA, nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
As of today, OGE had not published Puzder’s disclosures, presumably because information has not been fully submitted or reviewed. Shaub said the ethics review process is typically a matter of weeks, not days.
“In the past, the ethics work was fully completed prior to the announcement of the nominees in the overwhelming majority of cases,” according to Shaub’s letter to the Senators.
“Obligation” to hear from workers
In their letter to Sen. Alexander, the 23 Democrats argue the HELP committee has an “obligation” to hear testimony from workers at CKE franchises, citing a committee rule that requires a public review of information that “bears directly on the nominee’s qualifications.”
According to the letter, CKE Restaurants violated “numerous” wage protection laws under Puzder’s leadership. The Democrats also say the company is facing “several potential class action lawsuits” by employees.
Mr. Puzder’s nomination will require a simple majority in the HELP committee to advance to a full Senate vote. In the full chamber, he will also only need a majority vote.
If confirmed, he would oversee the Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces minimum wage and overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Recent analysis of Labor Department data by Bloomberg BNA shows the 108 investigations into CKE franchised stores since 2014 yielded $153,921 in recovered back wages.
More than 90 percent of CKE’s 2,500 stores are franchised to independent owners.
The six DOL audits conducted at company-owned restaurants yielded no infractions.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a New York-based non-profit that advocates for a higher minimum wage for restaurant workers, is reportedly gathering interviews from Carl’s Jr. and Hardees hourly employees that will be submitted during Puzder’s confirmation hearing.
A representative from ROC was not available for interview.