Obama to push OT proposal in Wisconsin as Walker prepares campaign
President Barack Obama is bringing his push to raise salaries for low-income workers to Wisconsin on Thursday, where Gov. Scott Walker set off a firestorm and built his expected run for the White House around curtailing collective bargaining powers and enacting a right-to-work law.
The visit comes at an awkward time for Walker. The second-term Republican plans to announce his expected presidential campaign in two weeks, and he’s trying to find a way out of a budget stalemate with the GOP-controlled Legislature that’s been dragging on more than a month.
Walker will greet Obama in La Crosse, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Tuesday. She also criticized the reason for Obama’s visit.
“In contrast to President Obama’s overtime proposal, Gov. Walker’s focus is on reforming government and cutting red tape in order to get government out of the way so our state’s job creators can focus on working to expand and create family-supporting jobs here in Wisconsin,” Patrick said.
Walker and Obama most recently clashed in March, when Walker signed the right-to-work law that said private-sector workers could not be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.
Obama accused Walker of claiming “victory over working Americans” when he signed the bill, saying Walker should do more to help working-class Americans “by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them ... paid leave.”
Obama called the right-to-work law “a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government.”
Walker tried to capitalize on the criticism, firing back that “the president should be looking to states, like Wisconsin, as an example for how to grow our economy.”
Obama is coming to Wisconsin this week to talk about the economy. The trip comes after Obama’s administration proposed making up to 5 million more people eligible for overtime to boost pay for low-income workers.
The long-awaited overtime rule from the Labor Department, which could take months to finalize, would more than double the threshold at which employers can avoid paying overtime, to $970 a week by next year. That would mean salaried employees earning less than $50,440 a year would be assured overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who was headed to Madison on Wednesday night for a campaign rally, praised Obama for the proposal. Sanders, who spoke to reporters in a conference call Tuesday, has built his underdog campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton around the argument that voters want a candidate who will defend the middle class and stand up to what he calls the “billionaire class.”
Not surprisingly, Sanders said he was “strongly opposed” to Walker’s agenda.
“We need leadership in this country that expands working families, that’s prepared to take on the big money interests today,” Sanders said. “We need to strengthen the trade union movement in this country, not break it.”
Walker spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement that Sanders’ comments, coupled with Obama’s visit, shows Walker’s “big bold reforms that have changed life for the better in Wisconsin” worries Democrats.
Walker was first elected governor in 2010 and within weeks of taking office he proposed eliminating nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The fight drew protests as large as 100,000 people and dragged on for weeks, but Walker prevailed.
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