Add a new headache to the growing list that Trump’s Labor secretary nominee faces this week, as the Senate finally prepares to grill him: Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers audited Andy Puzder’s CKE Restaurants back in 2014 as part of an immigration crackdown, and learned that one in every three employees working at 180 different Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations in the mid- and southwest was undocumented.
The investigation — first reported last May in a trade mag, then again on Saturday in the Huffington Post — left the franchisees who ran those restaurants, Jason and Carl LeVecke, in a lurch. They claim that, per company policy, they were using E-Verify, the government-run system used to verify applicants’ legal status, but that they had to fire about 1,200 people “in a matter of days” anyway. HuffPo says they were so short-staffed that they asked CKE to spot them workers until they could hire replacements. CKE never sent anybody, which is a bit unusual in a situation like that, and ultimately played a role in the LeVeckes declaring bankruptcy a year later. Puzder defended the move by telling the Franchise Times that “a franchisee’s illegal employees are not our responsibility.” Jason LeVecke told HuffPo the layoffs amounted to a “devastating” list of “some of our most experienced people.” (Fun side story: The LeVeckes are the grandsons of Carl’s Jr. founder Carl Karcher, and have been critics of Puzder’s management style — the racy ads in particular — for years.)
Most of Puzder’s controversial positions are long-held and hard-earned, but the criticism over immigration that he’s in for during his confirmation hearing is brand-new: Before being tapped for Trump’s cabinet, Puzder actually argued immigrant workers deserve compassion, employed an undocumented housekeeper, and even signed a letter urging Washington to, among other reforms, offer a pathway to citizenship. The moment he was nominated, though, Puzder had a change of heart, arguing it “makes no economic sense to spend trillions on welfare and jobless benefits for out-of-work Americans while bringing in foreign workers to fill jobs in their place.”