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Friday, December 15, 2017

Reprinted with permission form AlterNet.

Elizabeth Warren has set the table for Andrew Puzder, the burger chain executive and Secretary of Labor nominee, with a blistering 28-page letter outlining the likely line of Democratic questioning in this Thursday’s confirmation hearings.

Warren’s letter widens the attack on Puzder beyond his record as CEO of CKE, a privately held company that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, to a broader indictment of Trump policies for the American workforce. While Warren cites Puzder’s much-quoted preference for robots over human workers, the Massachusetts senator also challenges Trump’s likely efforts to weaken the federal overtime, paid sick leave, and minimum wage rules, as well as regulation of retirement advisers and the ongoing investigation of Wells Fargo’s fraudulent sales activities.

While Trump built his presidential campaign on defense of American workers, Warren’s letter illustrates several ways Puzder’s nomination will pit the reality against the rhetoric.

Fiduciary Duty

Warren will challenge Puzder to clarify a Feb. 3 Trump memorandum on the so-called Fiduciary Duty rule requiring retirement advisers to act in their clients’ best interest. The rule, promulgated by the Obama administration after years of public comment, is set to go into effect April 8.

The Obama regulation is already having a positive effect, Warren points out in the letter.

“Major financial institutions such as Fidelity, Charles Schwab, BlackRock, and others have announced they are slashing fees for their funds,” she writes. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch say they will no longer offer investment advisory services on a commission basis—an incentive to put the salesperson’s interests ahead of the retiree’s.

Warren wants Puzder to disclose who is behind the effort to delay or rescind the Fiduciary Duty regulation. She notes that CKE’s retirement plan was “riddled with high-fee investments and low participation rates.”

Sexual Harassment

Citing a Capital and Main study finding Carl’s and Hardee’s have been hit by more federal discrimination lawsuits than any other national burger chains, Warren asks Puzder if he will keep an updated 2016 Obama anti-discrimination regulation that protects workers against a sexually hostile work environment, and discrimination based on pregnancy and transgender status.

Mandatory Overtime Pay

Warren notes that 22 percent of Americans work for federal contractors. In return for government contracts, those companies have to comply with laws protecting workers, including mandatory overtime. Puzder opposed the Obama administration’s overtime rule, which requires federal contractors to pay overtime to anyone making less than $47,500 a year.

Warren cited the video testimony of Laura McDonald, a manager at Carl’s Jr. from 1998 to 2012, who says the chain made it impossible for her to do her job unless she worked “off the clock.”

Warren wants to know if Puzder will advise Trump to keep or dump mandatory overtime pay, which she says helps boost the wages of 4.2 million workers.

Federal Minimum Wage

Thanks to another Obama regulation, federal contractors have to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, giving a wage boost to some 200,000 workers. Will Puzder advise Trump to dump or keep the executive order on the federal minimum wage?

With Puzder’s nomination, Senate Democrats face the same daunting challenge they did with other Trump Cabinet choices: persuading at least three Senate Republicans to break ranks. In the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Democrats got two GOP converts: senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are now being lobbied by Puzder supporters, according to The Hill.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent.

IMAGE: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) shows company documents to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf during his testimony before a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the firm’s sales practices on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

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