Barack Obama. Image via Wikipedia
Barack Obama weighed in Wednesday on the collective bargaining reforms that Wisconsin Republicans want to enact, and he doesn't like them. He said "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."
The funny thing about this statement is that the scope of collective bargaining for federal employees is sharply limited. They are forbidden to collectively bargain for wages or benefits; instead, raises are determined annually through legislation. Wisconsin unions would actually have slightly more scope for bargaining than this: they could bargain for cost of living adjustments up to CPI, or more if approved in a referendum. So, if the Wisconsin law is an assault, federal employee unions have already been pummeled.
But instead of trying to strengthen the hand of federal workers' unions, Obama supports aggressive use of the direct wage-setting power, urging Congress to freeze federal workers' pay for two years. He's made no suggestion that such a wage freeze should occur only through a bargaining process, which would be required in states where wages are a matter for collective bargaining.
As usual when a politician manages to get on both sides of an issue, Obama is right once, and I've written before that his wage freeze proposal is a good idea. But given that he wants Congress to aggressively use powers it has only because federal workers don't bargain wages, he should probably give some thought to the idea that states--which spend a much larger percentage of their budgets on employee compensation and can't run budget deficits--are even less able to afford collective bargaining.