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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.