President Obama was asked many questions at his “Twitter Town Hall” meeting Wednesday, but only one that was directly relevant to federal and other public employees.
From a White House transcript, that question and the answer follow:
“Mr. President, in several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this?
THE PRESIDENT: The first thing I want to emphasize is that collective bargaining is the reason why the vast majority of Americans enjoy a minimum wage, enjoy weekends, enjoy overtime. So many things that we take for granted are because workers came together to bargain with their employers.
Now, we live in a very competitive society in the 21st century. And that means in the private sector, labor has to take management into account. If labor is making demands that make management broke and they can’t compete, then that doesn’t do anybody any good.
In the public sector, what is true is that some of the pension plans that have been in place and the health benefits that are in place are so out of proportion with what’s happening in the private sector that a lot of taxpayers start feeling resentful. They say, well, if I don’t have health care where I only have to pay $1 for prescription drugs, why is it that the person whose salary I’m paying has a better deal?”
What this means is, is that all of us are going to have to make some adjustments. But the principle of collective bargaining, making sure that people can exercise their rights to be able to join together with other workers and to negotiate and kind of even the bargaining power on either side, that’s something that has to be protected. And we can make these adjustments in a way that are equitable but preserve people’s collective bargaining rights.
So, typically, the challenges against bargaining rights have been taking place at the state level. I don't have direct control over that. But what I can do is to speak out forcefully for the principle that we can make these adjustments that are necessary during these difficult fiscal times, but do it in a way that preserves collective bargaining rights. And certainly at the federal level where I do have influence, I can make sure that we make these adjustments without affecting people’s collective bargaining rights.
I'll give you just one example. We froze federal pay for federal workers for two years. Now, that wasn’t real popular, as you might imagine, among federal workers. On the other hand, we were able to do that precisely because we wanted to prevent layoffs and we wanted to make sure that we sent a signal that everybody is going to have to make some sacrifices, including federal workers.
By the way, people who work in the White House, they’ve had their pay frozen since I came in, our high-wage folks. So they haven’t had a raise in two and a half years, and that's appropriate, because a lot of ordinary folks out there haven’t, either. In fact, they’ve seen their pay cut in some cases.
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