Even by GOP standards, Puzder is a radical choice for secretary of Labor

From The Hill:

by Andrew Stettner

The social justice we seek for our country’s workers must not be at the expense of our national economic health: rather it represents the means for maintaining that healthy prosperity.”

Those sound like the kind of words you might hear from the outgoing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. But in fact these prescient remarks were made by William Brock III, President Reagan’s second Secretary of Labor during his opening statement at his confirmation hearing in 1985. 

Brock wasn’t the only GOP appointed secretary of labor who recognized the unique role of the Labor Department. In fact, the Labor Department was split off from the Department of Commerce in 1913 precisely because a progressive Republican, William Taft, recognized the need for a Cabinet level department that would put the needs of workers ahead of business.

In the words of President Bush’s Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, “My parents were workers and I will always remember that the Labor Department is their department.”

While we have to wait until the week of Feb. 6 to hear President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor Andrew Puzder state his views on the record, both his background and prior statements continue to cause grave anxiety among ardent supporters of the Labor Department.

Puzder is the fast food CEO of CKE enterprises, and 60 percent of his Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurant locations investigated by U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) had labor violations across the nation from California to North Carolina. Puzder literally wrote the book on curtailing government regulation stating succinctly that “more government is not the solution to every problem, it’s the problem to every solution.”

Puzder stridently objected to new rules to expand access to overtime pay saying it would add to “add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama Administration has imposed on employers.” He stated that he was slowing expansion in California due to new laws like the requirement of 30 minute breaks every five hours.

How will Puzder lead an agency whose primary job is to enforce 180 laws enacted by Congress to protect worker’s wages, health and safety, retirement, equal treatment, and much more? Secretary Ann Mclaughlin, another Reagan choice, understood the gravity of this task declaring “central of importance to me is my duty as the Secretary of Labor to enforce the law,” and committing to “investigating alleged violations thoroughly and assessing substantial penalties quickly where violations are found.”

Similar commitments made by Elizabeth Dole, Elaine Chao, Lynn Martin and Raymond Donovan. These prior leaders understood that commitment to fair and prompt enforcement of existing laws is a minimum requirement of any Secretary of Labor, and one Andy Puzder will have to uphold.

Most prior GOP appointed secretaries of labor came to the job with deep experience with the responsibilities of public service. Raymond Donovan, the only other recent businessman chosen to the lead the worker’s department, sought to convince the committee of his allegiance to the Department’s mission.

Asked by Senator Hatch about his experience with the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Secretary Donovan declared that “Any good manager, regardless of the law, has to concern himself with safety.” Health and safety is just one example of a minimum labor standard that is in fact good for business. Family and medical leave is another, and the most successful U.S. companies are going beyond the current limited Family and Medical Leave Act.

As a businessman and a Republican, Andy Puzder could be in a unique position to champion the role of a basic floor of regulations in securing a level playing field for businesses that want to provide the good jobs President Trump promised Americans during his inaugural address. But, unlike other previous hearings, it’s hard to know what to expect similar pledges from a nominee who appears so predisposed against the core commitments of the agency he has been chosen to lead.

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