The Trump administration has tapped Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants (parent company of fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee's) for the next head of the Department of Labor (DOL). While many see Puzder’s years spent in the restaurant industry as an asset, critics complain about his tendency to oppose regulations that would increase workers’ pay and benefits.
Puzder claims increased costs from the Affordable Care Act, for example, have hurt his and other restaurant chains’ ability to hire more employees. On the minimum wage, he opposes a $15 federal minimum wage and has proposed raising the federal standard to around $9 per hour, with a lower minimum-wage tiered system for entry-level workers. He also opposes the now-delayed overtime regulation that would have made more Americans eligible for overtime pay by requiring employers to pay overtime to all employees earning less than $913 per week.
It’s not clear, however, how Puzder would handle the so-called “fiduciary rule” from DOL that expands the definition of "investment advice fiduciary" to cover a wide range of interactions that service providers have with ERISA benefit plans and certain individual account owners. Although investment advice affecting retirement assets is the primary target, the rule also covers ERISA health and welfare plans that have an investment component, as well as HSAs. Many expect the Trump administration to delay implementation of the rule.
In addition to the Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Wage and Hour Division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also falls within the jurisdiction of the DOL. OSHA implemented several new regulations just within the past year. Based on Puzder’s opposition to many of the previous administration’s stances as they relate to labor, and as described in on op-ed he penned for Forbes, recent requirements for reasonable reporting for employees to report injuries and illnesses and an increase in OSHA penalties employers may be subject to for violations may be rolled back or modified.
He has also expressed frustration with the federal regulatory requirements and permits required to open new restaurant locations, saying he “can open a restaurant faster in Siberia than [he] can in California,” so changes or easing of such regulations may be afoot.
As of this writing, Senate confirmation hearings for Puzder have been pushed to February and he has reportedly expressed some hesitation on going forward with the new role. In addition, his required ethics and financial paperwork also has not yet been posted by the Office of Government Ethics -- historically, this has been completed before moving ahead with confirmation hearings for cabinet members, but this administration has not adhered to this precedent for all proposed appointees. If his confirmation process moves forward, we will continue to identify any potential workplace and benefits policy changes signaled by Puzder and the Trump administration.