Andy Puzder Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrats push back against Puzder nomination

CKE Restaurants CEO to sell his interest in company if he becomes Secretary of Labor

A committee hearing next week will deliberate Andy Puzder’s nomination as Secretary of Labor, and Democrats and labor groups have stepped up their attacks on the CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc.

Puzder has reached an ethics agreement with federal regulators, clearing the way for Congress to take up the nomination, which has been delayed multiple times. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will conduct the hearing on Feb. 16.

According to the agreement, Puzder will resign from his positions at CKE Restaurants, owner of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., and will sell his stake to CKE if he is confirmed. His departure would end a nearly 17-year tenure that has made Puzder one of the best known executives in the restaurant industry.

Puzder also agreed to forego a bonus and reimbursement payments associated with his move to Tennessee in 2016, when CKE moved its headquarters there, if he doesn’t receive those payments before he assumes the position.

According to SEC documents from 2012, Puzder had a 3.3-percent ownership interest in CKE, when Apollo Global Management acquired the company. The next year, CKE was sold to the Atlanta-based private-equity firm Roark Capital.

“Should Mr. Puzder be confirmed, at the time he takes office as Secretary of Labor, he will have no financial interest with CKE or Roark Capital,” George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder, said on Friday. 

Puzder has agreed to recuse himself from any matter involving CKE for his entire term in office unless he is cleared in accordance with government ethics rules, Thompson said.

Additionally, Puzder has resigned his positions from the International Franchise Association and the American Enterprise Institute. And he will not participate in any Department of Labor decision in those organizations for a year.

Puzder also agreed to sell his stock in more than 200 companies within 90 days of his confirmation. Those companies include a wide variety of publicly traded companies, including McDonald’s Corp. He also has interest in several private-equity and real estate firms that will be sold within 180 days. Puzder does not own any interest in Roark, Thompson said.

Debate over Puzder’s nomination has been among the most intense of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. Puzder has been a leading critic of the regulatory environment under former President Barack Obama, publicly criticizing minimum wage hikes, plans to expand overtime pay and the Affordable Care Act.

That has made him a target for Democrats and labor groups that have pushed hard against the nomination.

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.-D.) called on Puzder to withdraw his nomination, while U.S. Senator Patty Murray (Wash.-D), the top Democrat on the Senate Labor Committee, called Puzder “uniquely unqualified” to lead the department.

“Puzder has spoken out against raising the minimum wage and against efforts to help more workers get overtime pay,” Murray said at a news conference on Thursday. “He thinks robots would be more convenient for employers than actual workers, because robots never get sick or need a lunch break.”

Others, however, have come to Puzder’s defense. That includes Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Restaurant and franchise executives have cheered Puzder’s nomination, saying he’ll bring a more cooperative approach to labor enforcement. 

“Burdened by a steady pattern of overregulation, employers across the country should welcome the nomination of one of their own to be secretary of labor,” Sweeney wrote in a piece for The Hill. “Andrew Puzder not only brings an entrepreneurial spirit that has driven him to be a successful CEO, but a deep understanding of how the government and the business community can work together to support job creation and economic growth.”

The debate is even hitting CKE, which has come under a microscope over its labor record and performance under Puzder. 

A class action lawsuit was filed this week against the quick-service operator over contracts that keep franchisees from hiring one another’s managers. The lawsuit doesn’t mention Puzder, but the filing quotes him frequently, according to reports.

Critics of the nomination have also cited his admission this week that he used an undocumented immigrant as a house cleaner, although he ended her employment, paid back taxes and offered her assistance in getting legal status.

Proponents of Puzder’s nomination say he is committed to helping workers succeed. 

“Puzder isn’t afraid to speak his mind,” Sweeney wrote. “But those of us who know him know that these attacks won’t stand because Puzder is deeply committed to helping American workers succeed.” 

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

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