Fast-food chief executive Andrew Puzder’s nomination to lead theU.S. Labor Department is inching forward amidopposition from U.S. Senate Democrats and employee advocates whocontend his confirmation would imperil Obama administrationregulations.

|

Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, is set to appear Feb. 2 in the U.S. SenateCommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Committeechairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, on Monday called Puzder “a respected Tennesseebusiness leader who understands how excessive regulation candestroy jobs.”

|
DOL nominee Andrew Puzder. (Photo: AP)
|

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team confirmed Tuesdaythat Puzder has submitted financial disclosure forms to the U.S.Office of Government Ethics, the independent agency that helpsnominees craft agreements to minimize the potential for conflictsof interest. The ethics office hasn’t yet published Puzder’sdisclosure forms, or his ethics pledge.

|

Senate Democrats are raising doubts about Puzder’s fitness forthe job. They convened a panel on Jan. 10 that featured formerworkers from CKE, parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’srestaurants, complaining about working conditions and pay. Advocacygroups such as the National Employment Law Project also havecriticized Puzder’s stances on labor such as his opposition tominimum wage increases.

|

Puzder’s nomination seemed to hit a snag over the weekend, amida report from CNN, that the nominee wasconsidering dropping out of the running. CNN quoted an anonymoussource who said Puzder “is not into the pounding he is taking, andthe paperwork.”

|

The Trump transition team, pushing back, pointed to a Tweet onMonday from Puzder’s account in which he said he is “lookingforward” to his confirmation hearing. Trump’s team cited Senatescheduling issues to explain why the hearing was delayed.

|

|

As the vetting process continues, employment lawyers on thelabor and management sides are sharing their own observations aboutwhat Puzder should disclose to show he is fit, and withoutconflict, to serve as secretary of the Labor Department.

|

Puzder is required to submit a 278e form at the government ethicsoffice—revealing assets and sources of income—as part of theprocess. He and other executive branch nominees must also craft anethics agreement to mitigate any financial conflicts ofinterest.

|

Public disclosure of these documents is required, but the formshave not yet been shared by the ethics office. The office, led byWalter Shaub, did not respond to a request for comment.

|

Avi Kumin, a partner at Katz, Marshall, & Banks inWashington who represents employees, said Puzder’s record on laborwill come from his tenure at CKE Restaurants. Puzder doesn’t have abackground in public-sector positions.

|

‘’I would like to see disclosure of things like worker pay dataand worker benefits data,” Kumin said. “Is there a history ofovertime or other legal violations at CKE that suggests that hisapproach to management has been worse on those types of issues ascompared to other private-sector executives?”

|

Kumin said Puzder, chief executive of CKE since 2000, could alsoconsider revealing more data about his company’s finances. SinceCKE is a private company, there are no recent disclosures on itsfinancial performance from the U.S. Securities and ExchangeCommission.

|

“The fact that [Puzder] is the CEO of a major corporation iscertainly a start, but has he been a good or bad CEO?” Kumin said.“That’s a relevant question.”

|

|

David Lopez, a partner at Outten & Golden in Washington whoserved as the general counsel to the U.S. Equal EmploymentOpportunity Commission from 2010 until last month, said fast-foodindustry safety violations are often subject to investigations fromfederal labor agencies.

|

The Labor Department signed an agreement with fast-food chainSubway in July to improve its restaurants’ training and compliancepractices after the department found a history of wage-and-hourviolations at the company. In October, two owners ofWashington-area Johnny Rocket’s restaurants agreed to pay the Labor Department $571,460 in backpay and damages to settle allegations that servers were deniedovertime pay and the minimum wage.

|

“It’s just really important that the American people, throughtheir representatives, be provided the assurance that he is goingto fight for them, the working families, and not his industry,”Lopez said. He said he would also like to see Puzder disclose anycontributions he or his company have made to organizations thattake stances on labor issues, such as raising the minimum wage.Representatives in Congress and voters, Lopez said, “have the rightto know.”

|

For Rick Grimaldi, a Fisher & Phillips partner whorepresents employers, Puzder would be “wise to err on the side ofgoing beyond what is basically required for disclosure,” includingdiscussing alleged labor violations. But he said that given howoften labor and employment charges are filed, Congress and thepublic should look at these charges critically.

|

“I would give him the big benefit of the doubt here, provided hehas an explanation, but certainly he has an obligation to addressthem,” Grimaldi said.

|

Steven Suflas, an employment practice partner at Ballard Spahrwho represents management, said Puzder’s op-eds and pressinterviews will be “more telling” about how he’d run the LaborDepartment than any new financial disclosures would be.

|

“Fortunately, this isn’t like some of the other nominees ordesignees for various positions where we know that they’re abillionaire—but beyond that, what do we know?” Suflas said.

|

Puzder has commented in the news media over the years on manyemployment-related topics. He wrote in a Forbes op-ed that the Labor Department’sexpansion of overtime eligibility to millions of additionalworkers—a Texas trial judge enjoined therule the rule—would lead to increased expenses for employers.

|

Puzder criticized the Obama administration’s joint-employerrules, which he argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed would “destroy” thefast-food industry business model.

|

Puzder also has published his own blog expressing thesame opinions, but he hasn’t updated it since Nov. 9, a day afterthe U.S. presidential election.

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.