President Donald Trump has nominated Andrew Puzder to be Secretary of Labor. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Puzder’s confirmation hearing in the Senate has been delayed four times and is currently postponed indefinitely until Puzder completes required ethics paperwork. If his confirmation hearing is ever held and if he is ultimately confirmed by the Senate, what would Puzder’s role as Labor Secretary mean for public employees and public pensions?
As Labor Secretary, Puzder would have little direct impact on state and local public pension plans. However, his hostility towards working families promotes an atmosphere that is hostile towards public pensions. As a corporate executive, Puzder has opposed minimum wage increases. He has expressed support for increasing automation, so he has to rely less on actual human employees. Furthermore, Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s franchises have been cited for numerous labor law violations– citations coming from the very same Cabinet department Puzder has been picked to lead. Perhaps we would learn more about Puzder if a confirmation hearing for him is ever held, but what we know so far is concerning to say the least.
Puzder continues a worrying trend of Cabinet nominations by President Trump. During the campaign, we expressed concern about Trump’s commitment to retirement security for working families. Despite his campaign trail promises to protect Social Security and Medicare, Trump’s record as a businessman shows little regard for his employees’ retirement security. For three years, he refused to make any contributions to his employees’ 401(k)s. Even when he is making contributions, Trump’s companies offered the stingiest 401(k) plan legally allowed. Coincidentally, Puzder’s company also offers a stingy 401(k) plan. In 2015, CKE Restaurants did not match employees’ contributions to their retirement plans.
Since becoming president, Trump has made other worrying moves. He nominated Betsy DeVos to be Education Secretary (she was narrowly confirmed by the Senate today). We detailed our concerns about her and her family’s attacks on public pensions in an earlier blog post. President Trump and his allies in Congress are also threatening attacks on federal employees, including their defined benefit pension plan. (We’ll have more to say on this in a future blog post)
While the Trump administration has not openly attacked state and local public pensions, the administration is setting itself up as hostile to the concerns of working families. With ongoing attacks against public pensions in multiple states, one would hope for a presidential administration that would support strengthening retirement security rather than weakening it.