President Obama is adding his two cents to the showdown taking shape in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a state budget that would strip public employees of most collective bargaining rights. And while Obama says that fiscal “adjustments” are needed, he also says that from what he has heard the bill “seems like more of an assault on unions.”
Under Walker’s plan, as TPM has reported, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn’t rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index. Walker and state Republican leaders have said the plan is necessary to deal with the state’s budget shortfall.
According to the Associated Press: “The proposal would effectively remove unions’ right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.”
In the past week, the state Capitol has been deluged with protests, and some schools have closed as a result of teachers calling in sick en masse.
In an interview with the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, Obama was asked about the controversy.
Well I’d say that I haven’t followed exactly what’s happening with the Wisconsin budget. I’ve got some budget problems here in Washington that I’ve had to focus on. I would say, as a general proposition, that everybody’s gotta make some adjustments to new fiscal realities. And I think if we want to avoid layoffs — which I want to avoid, I don’t want to see layoffs of hard-working federal workers.
We had to impose, for example, a freeze on pay increases for federal workers for the next two years, as part of my overall budget freeze. You know, I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do.
On the other other hand, some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin — where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally — seems like more of an assault on unions.
And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers, and they’re firefighters, and they’re social workers, and they’re police officers. You know, they make a lot of sacrifices, and make a big contribution, and I think it’s important not to vilify them, or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.
So, I think everybody’s gotta make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well being of our states and our cities.