Obama Tells Governors Not to Vilify State Employees -- But Froze Federal Worker Salaries

By Fred Lucas | February 28, 2011 | 4:18 PM EST

Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour

Washington (CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama’s criticism of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) makes little sense in light of a freeze in federal employee pay, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said.

“The president told us today that he, unilaterally, froze federal pay for federal employees for two years,” Barbour, a Republican, told CNSNews.com. “So the idea that there is some constitutional right to collective bargaining is simply not accurate. Federal employees don’t have a right to collective bargaining. They don’t have collective bargaining for pay, for health care or for pensions."

In speaking to a bipartisan group of governors at the White House, who were in Washington for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama called on the states’ chief executives not to denigrate public employees.

“I recently froze the salaries of federal employees for two years," Obama told the governors. "It wasn’t something that I wanted to do, but I did it because of the very tough fiscal situation that we’re in. So, I believe that everybody should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that."

"Democrats and Republicans agree with that," said Obama.  "In fact, many public employees in your respective states have already agreed to cuts."

Obama did not mention Walker, or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both Republicans, who are currently at a standoff with public employee unions to reduce their respective state’s deficits. But President Obama has sided with the public employee unions in Wisconsin in previous comments.

“I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon,” Obama said. “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."

“We’re not going to convince the bravest Americans to put their lives on the line as police officers or firefighters, if we don’t properly reward that bravery,” he added.

Barbour said he did not know what the president was referring to.

“He said don’t demonize public employees," Barbour said in reference to Obama. "I don’t know anybody who does that. Our public employees are great. The idea that controlling cost is demonizing public employees is obviously not true, because it was the president who unilaterally froze federal employees pay. I know he didn’t mean that as a demonization of federal employees. He did it because it was a fiscal necessity.”