Democrats want fast-food workers to testify at Trump Labor secretary pick Andy Puzder's confirmation hearing

Almost two dozen Senate Democrats are calling for fast-food workers to testify at the confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s Labor secretary pick Andy Puzder, who is the chief executive of the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Patty Murray of Washington and 21 other Democrats wrote to the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday saying they were concerned that Labor Department investigations of CKE Restaurant Inc. outlets “have turned up violations of basic protections’ of workers’s rights in more than half of their inspections.”

The Carpinteria-based chain, which has more than 3,300 locations in 42 U.S. states and 28 countries, is facing “several potential class-action lawsuits” by employees regarding wage and other disputes, the lawmakers said.

“It is essential that the committee hear from these employees and other Americans who have had first-hand experience with Mr. Puzder or the businesses he has led,” the senators wrote to committee chairman, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

An analysis in September by Bloomberg BNA found that about 60% of Labor Department investigations of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants since 2009 turned up at least one violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers minimum wage, overtime and other regulations.

Still, that was one of the best performances by leading fast-food outlets.

“Mr. Puzder's tenure at CKE and his company's treatment of thousands of working families ‘bear directly’ on his qualifications and suitability to serve as secretary of Labor,” the senators wrote. They added that if confirmed, Puzder “would be responsible for overseeing the enforcement of many of the labor laws his company has repeatedly violated.”

In a letter released Friday, Alexander wrote back to the senators saying he would not change committee precedent used for nominees of presidents Obama, George W. Bush and others. At those confirmation hearings, the nominee has been the only witness after sometimes being introduced by home-state senators. 

“We should not change the rules of the confirmation process in the middle of a transition,” Alexander said. "That would be a disservice to the nominees and would serve as a deterrent to attracting qualified people to put forth their names for consideration.”

Puzder’s confirmation hearing tentatively is scheduled for Jan. 17. 

The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Puzder has criticized new federal rules expanding overtime pay, which have been blocked by a federal judge, and opposes the push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage that many Democrats support.

In selecting Puzder last month, Trump said the fast-food executive “will fight to make American workers safer and more prosperous by enforcing fair occupational safety standards and ensuring workers receive the benefits they deserve, and he will save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages.” 

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jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

8:55 a.m.: This article was updated with more detail on previous committee confirmation hearings.

8:10 a.m.: This article was updated with response from Sen. Lamar Alexander.

This article originally was published at 7:50 a.m.

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