Andrew Franklin Puzder withdrew from consideration for the position of U.S. Labor Secretary in President Donald Trump’s cabinet on February 15, 2017, just a day before he was scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) for a confirmation hearing.
"I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. I'm honored to have been considered and am grateful to all who have supported me," he tweeted, giving no other reasons for his decision.
Puzder, 66, the CEO of the privately-held restaurant company CKE that owns chains like Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had courted controversy from the day his nomination was announced for his hardline stance on abortion and wage laws.
Puzder's confirmation hearing faced repeated delays, that reports suggest were on account of his inability to satisfy the requirements of the Office of Government Ethics, but the last straw were revelations that were made in the run up to his withdrawal. On February 6, 2017, Puzder admitted that he had once hired a housekeeper who was undocumented and therefore, legally not permitted to work in the U.S. Not only that, his statement to the media, as reported by the Washington Post revealed that he hadn't paid taxes on that employment and once it came to light that the help was illegal, he co-operated with the IRS to back pay the taxes.
Another blow to his nomination came by way of a tape of an episode of the 'Oprah Winfrey' show from 1990 in which Puzder's first wife, Ms. Lisa Fierstein appeared in disguise and accused him of abuse. According to Politico, the tape was viewed by HELP committee in private just hours before Puzder made the announcement.
Twenty-three Senators including Elizabeth Warren wrote to the Chairman of the on January 5, 2017 expressing concerns over the track record of Puzder’s companies in labor matters and seeking outside testimony to evaluate his competence.
Restaurants owned by CKE have run into trouble with the Department of Labor on a number of occasions for labor law violations. According to The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, inspection data from the labor department revealed 1,082 violations of the rules of the Wage and Hour Division, while 32 serious violations were found in inspections by Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
The company has also faced lawsuits pertaining to discrimination, charges of sexual harassment and a class action lawsuit for not paying overtime. Puzder has faced criticism in the past for his company’s advertisements with scantily clad models. Such instances have only fuelled opposition from Democrats like Washington Senator Patty Murray who said “I have serious questions about whether a CEO who is comfortable reinforcing harmful stereotypes about women and who is so dismissive of workplace discrimination issues can be trusted to uphold core missions of the Department.”
The eldest among five children, Puzder grew up in Ohio often taking odd jobs in landscaping and construction and playing guitar to pay for his education. But in 1970, after the Kent State massacre where four students were killed, Puzder quit college for a while and began attending concerts across Washington. He finally graduated from Cleveland State in 1975 with a Bachelor’s degree in History and went on to attend law school at Washington State University graduating in 1978.
Puzder, began his legal career as a trial attorney, right out of school with a small law firm in St. Louis. During the 1980s he became involved with Missouri Citizens for Life, an anti-abortion movement in the state. In 1986, he helped write a state law that forbade any role of state money, employees or facilities in abortions, except when it was required to save the mother’s life. This law was challenged in court, and was finally upheld by the Supreme Court in 1989.
Meanwhile, he met Carl Karcher, the founder of Carl’s Jr., when the latter was on the brink of bankruptcy. As Karcher’s personal attorney in 1991, Puzder engineered a deal with William Foley, Chairman of Fidelity National Investments to pick up stake in Carl’s Jr. and created CKE restaurants to bring Karcher back into business. He rose through the ranks, helping turn around a failing Hardee’s after its acquisition by CKE and was appointed CEO of CKE in September 2000.
Puzder is staunchly opposed to raising the minimum wage. “How do you pay somebody $15 an hour to scoop ice cream? How good could you be at scooping ice-cream? Its just not a job where you could compensate somebody like that,” said Puzder who himself was an ice cream server at Baskin Robbins, adding that when government tries to control wages jobs are lost.
In a 2016 interview with Business Insider, Puzder spoke about automation in the restaurant business as a consequence of a higher minimum wage: “[Robot servers are] always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” he said comparing automatons to human employees.
Puzder is in favor of repealing Obamacare, saying that higher premiums have caused a 'government mandated recession' in the restaurant business as people have less money to spend on dining out. He has also been critical of the Obama administration’s move to compensate workers for overtime work. In a column for Forbes in May 2016, Puzder argued that these rules will force businesses to reclassify salaried employees as hourly wage workers and track the number of hours worked.
“Turning highly sought-after entry level management careers into hourly jobs where employees punch a clock and are compensated for time spent rather than time well spent is hardly an improvement on the path from the working class to the middle class,” he wrote.
Puzder’s views on immigration are however slightly different from those of the administration. A supporter of free markets, he believes that legal immigration and skilled immigrants could benefit the American economy. In a column for the Wall Street Journal Puzder wrote, “Legal immigration policies should support economic growth. If current quotas are bringing in enough talent, let’s keep them. If more immigration or less red tape will boost the economy, let’s try that.“
In this election cycle, Puzder has contributed to the Republican National Committee and the PACs supporting other Republican candidates like Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio before he began to support Donald Trump.