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Labor Law Outlook Suddenly Clouded by Puzder’s Withdrawal

Four names have been mentioned as possible alternatives to the CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder for labor chief.

GettyImages-498458397-compressorA hardline opponent of any substantial federal minimum wage hikes will no longer be America’s labor tsar, creating a shadow of doubt that Donald Trump’s administration will take an uncompromising pro-business approach to workplace regulation.

Just who will replace Andy Puzder as the president’s nomination for Labor Secretary remains to be seen, though Democrats already have hailed his decision to withdraw his candidacy as a win for workers’ rights.

The CKE Restaurants CEO decided to pull out amid revelations that he had employed an undocumented immigrant housekeeper. The recent resurfacing of an old Oprah Winfrey tape raising allegations by his ex-wife of domestic abuse, which were later withdrawn, also unsettled some Republican senators.

“Templeton and Kirsanow both have a history of opposing unions.

White House officials said potential replacements include Peter Kirsanow, who sits on the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights, and Catherine Templeton, a former head of the South Carolina labor department.

Templeton and Kirsanow both have a history of opposing unions.

Other potential candidates include Joseph Guzman, an assistant professor of human resources and labor relations at Michigan State University who advised Trump during his campaign, and R. Alexander Acosta, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Although Puzder has said he wouldn’t mind a “rational” rise in the minimum wage at the federal level, perhaps indexed to inflation, he opposed the Obama administration’s attempt to raise it to $10.10 from $7.25, where it has stood since 2009. More than 20 states, meanwhile, have raised their minimum wage higher than $7.25 and cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles have scheduled local increases to $15 to progressively occur over the coming years.

Business groups also are awaiting direction on generous overtime pay rules introduced by the Obama administration that are currently held up in the courts.

Puzder was a favored choice of the National Retail Federation, the industry’s flagship lobby group. On Tuesday, it had issued a statement urging the Senate to approve his nomination.

“The previous Department of Labor’s sweeping actions on federal overtime rules, joint employer relationships and many other issues have created immense uncertainty for employers and stifled economic growth,” NRF government relations head David French wrote in a letter.

Trump sent mixed messages about the minimum wage on the campaign trail. On several occasions, he said the current federal level of $7.25 was too low, but on others he warned raising it could harm America’s international competitiveness.

Trump’s election victory was partly made possible by the support of working class voters concerned about income inequality. The president has been more inclined to suggest that wages could be lifted by giving businesses more opportunity to grow—through tax cuts and reduced regulation, for example—rather than through government regulation on wages.

About Ross Kelly

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.