Obama says public employees should not be "vilified"

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 1, 2011 8:16am EST

A demonstrator holds a placard near the State Capitol building during protests against the proposed budget cuts from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in Madison, February 25, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

A demonstrator holds a placard near the State Capitol building during protests against the proposed budget cuts from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in Madison, February 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Hauck

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Monday everyone should be ready for sacrifice to help tackle U.S. budget problems, but it does no good to vilify public employees.

In an apparent reference to a Wisconsin fight between public sector unions and the state's governor, Obama said: "I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed."

Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker and supporters of public workers are battling over a proposal that would cut state employee benefits and curtail their rights to collective bargaining.

"We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service. These times demand it. We're not going to attract the best teachers for our kids, for example, if they only make a fraction of what other professionals make," Obama told the nation's governors gathered in Washington.

In response, Walker issued a statement through his press secretary saying that Obama misunderstood the situation in Wisconsin.

"I'm sure the President knows that most federal employees do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits while our plan allows it for base pay. And I'm sure the President knows that the average federal worker pays twice as much for health insurance as what we are asking for," he said.

The governor also said that his administration has "repeatedly praised the more than 300,000 government workers who come to work every day in Wisconsin.

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Jerry Norton and Greg McCune)

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