So apparently Republican Gov. Scott Walker thinks he’s got something in common with Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Detroit would not be bankrupt and Chicago public schools would be flourishing if those cities operated under Wisconsin’s public union laws, Gov. Scott Walker said Monday in what amounted to a national stump speech — and came days before he hosts the National Governors Association conference in Milwaukee.
Walker likened his public union philosophy to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“The position I pushed is not unlike the principle that Franklin Delano Roosevelt — not exactly a conservative — pushed as well when it came to public sector collective bargaining,” Walker remarked at the annual Governmental Research Association policy conference. “He felt that there wasn’t a need in the public sector to have collective bargaining because the government is the people. We are the people. And so what we’ve done is to be able to empower our great employees, to affirm them.”
I’ve dispelled the myth of FDR being opposed to public sector employee unions, and here’s a particularly revealing passage from FDR from a letter he wrote to then-National Federation of Federal Employees National President Luther Steward (emphasis added):
“Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs. The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry.”
There’s no denying that in the same letter as the passage I highlighted, FDR did write that “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” but it’s important to put that sentence into context.
As noted by William R. Dougan, the national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, at the time FDR wrote his letter, the right to strike was implicit because the private sector was the only sector in the U.S. where collective bargaining existed, and private-sector unions had the right to strike, as they still do to this delay.
Roosevelt’s concern was that if federal employees were to strike, it could present a threat to the nation’s security — a legitimate concern for the government, where about half of workers are employed by agencies with a clear national security mission. At a time when the great powers of Europe and Asia were re-engaging the gears of war, it is no wonder Roosevelt would be concerned about the continuity of federal service.
That is precisely why when President Kennedy granted federal workers bargaining rights at the height of the Cold War in 1962, they were not given the right to strike.
To be clear, there is absolutely no comparison between the policies of Scott Walker and the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, because Walker has proven at every turn that he’s more interested in governing for the benefit of the richest citizens and corporations, while Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies helped benefit the poor, children, and the elderly.