Labor nominee Puzder admits to employing a housekeeper who was in the U.S. illegally

Andy Puzder, President Trump’s nominee for Labor secretary, admitted to employing a housekeeper who was an immigrant in the U.S. illegally, raising another potential problem for his confirmation amid Democratic criticism of his treatment of workers.

“My wife and I employed a housekeeper for a few years, during which I was unaware that she was not legally permitted to work in the U.S.,” Puzder said in a written statement provided by a spokesman.

“When I learned of her status, we immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status. We have fully paid back taxes to the IRS and the state of California,” said Puzder, who is chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc., the Carpinteria-based parent of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains. 

The housekeeper was employed by Puzder about five years ago, said the spokesman, George Thompson. Puzder paid the back taxes after Trump picked him for Labor secretary in early December, Thompson said.

The Huffington Post first reported the development.

Although such revelations have torpedoed past nominees, the chairman of the Senate committee that will consider Puzder’s nomination said he did not think it would be a major issue.

“Based upon what I’ve learned, since Mr. Puzder reported his mistake and voluntarily corrected it, I do not believe that this should disqualify him from being a Cabinet secretary,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Employing an immigrant who is in the country illegally sank President Clinton’s nomination of Zoe Baird to be attorney general in 1993 and then led a possible replacement, Kimba Wood, to withdraw from consideration. 

In 2001, Linda Chavez, President George W. Bush’s nominee for Labor secretary, withdrew over questions about whether she had employed an immigrant who was in the country illegally and disclosures that the FBI was trying to determine whether she had tried to influence what a former neighbor would tell investigators during a background check.

Three years later, Bernard Kerik, Bush’s nominee for Homeland Security secretary, withdrew after saying he had learned a former household employee might have been in the United States illegally. Kerik also was dealing with negative news reports about his business dealings. 

But Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for Commerce secretary, sailed through his confirmation hearing despite admitting that he recently had fired a household worker after, he said, he learned the employee was in the United States illegally.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted there’s been “no clear pattern” in whether employing a worker in the U.S. illegally has led to a nominee’s withdrawal. But his support for Puzder was unshaken.

“He realized the mistake. He fixed it and I think is eminently qualified for the job,” McConnell told reporters. “I'm enthusiastically in his camp.”

However, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), a member of the committee that will vote on Puzder’s nomination, said there is more concern about a potential Labor secretary employing an immigrant in the United States illegally because that job involves enforcing federal labor laws.

”It’s the same level of disregard his company had for labor laws,” she said of employing the housekeeper.

Democrats have criticized Puzder for running restaurant chains where Labor Department investigations have turned up violations of labor laws.

 An analysis 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. But Puzder’s supporters note that was one of the best performances by leading fast-food outlets.

Puzder’s confirmation hearing has been delayed four times as senators await his financial disclosures and ethics paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics.

“I’m not sure we’re ever going to get to a hearing,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), another committee member. “There’s an accumulation of issues with him.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, did not address the housekeeper issue directly Tuesday. But she said Puzder had “a lot of explaining to do.” 

Eight weeks and four canceled hearing dates since his nomination was announced, we still have yet to see a single shred of paperwork from Mr. Puzder — but what we have heard is story after story about how he spent his career squeezing workers for profit, leaving many with lost wages, no financial security and no retirement,” she said.

“Simply put, Mr. Puzder’s nomination is a broken promise to the workers President Trump said he would put first, and if Mr. Puzder ever does come before our committee, he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do,” Murray said.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for the rights of low-wage workers, said Puzder’s statement about the housekeeper raised more questions than answers.

“Individuals only pay ‘back taxes’ when they’ve failed to pay them in the first place,” she said. “Did Mr. Puzder, an employer and a seasoned lawyer, not know he had to pay taxes?”

The delayed confirmation hearing has led to speculation Puzder might be having second thoughts about the nomination. But his spokesman said Tuesday that Puzder remained “all in” on serving as Labor secretary.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera

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UPDATES:

3:05 p.m.: This article was updated to note that Andy Puzder paid back taxes related to his housekeeper’s employment after Trump chose him for Labor secretary.

1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and from Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project.

This article originally was published at 8:05 a.m.

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