The President took to the airwaves yesterday weighing in on the debate in Wisconsin over cutting public employee wages and benefits. During an interview on a local Wisconsin television station the President was asked for his views on Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to cut public employee wages and benefits and the resulting protests. The President acknowledged that in these tough economic times everyone needs to make sacrifices. But on the subject of the Governor’s efforts to eliminate the public worker’s collective bargaining rights, the President stated forcefully that he felt such efforts were “an assault on the unions.” Critics were quick to weigh in claiming that the President’s comments were just one more example of federal government over reach; and that he had no right to interfere in a specific state issue.
Any governor facing a fiscal shortfall has the right to seek monetary concessions from the public employees. After all employee wages and benefits represent roughly 83% of state government expenditures. And in these trying times a reduction in salary or benefits is a whole lot better than being laid off. But when the governor wants to not only cut benefits but eliminate the employees’ collective bargaining rights as well he is crossing a very broad line.
These events are not only happening in Wisconsin. Dozens of state legislatures across the country are watching Wisconsin closely as they anticipate similar legislation. In Ohio, more than 4,000 public union workers jammed the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday to hear testimony on a bill that repeals their right to negotiate.
This is not a particular state issue. This is an organized, concerted effort on the part of conservatives to break the unions. Seeking a reduction in employee’s benefits and wages makes sense. That is what negotiations are for. Taking away the right to negotiate goes too far.
The President got this one right.