UPDATE: 3:15 p.m. -- After enduring persistent criticism for comparing unions to Adolf Hitler and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner (R) on Friday issued an apology for the "unfortunate analogy."
In a letter to the Patriot-News, Wagner said he'd already contacted the heads of the unions he'd offended and said he was sorry. "But I won't apologize for being angry about the injustice being done to my constituents," he added.
Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner (R) is under fire from the state's largest teachers union for comparing unions to Adolf Hitler and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Wagner made his comments during a floor debate Wednesday over legislation seeking to prohibit public employers from automatically deducting union dues from members' paychecks. From his remarks:
"And there are two things that I continue to remember about power and control. There was a gentleman by the name of Hitler, he was about power and control. There is a gentleman by the name of Putin, who is across the ocean, that is about power and control. The union situation is about power and control. That is my comment on that issue."
In an interview with the Associated Press, Wagner insisted, however, that he wasn't actually equating labor unions with dictators.
"I'm not comparing the unions to Hitler and I'm not comparing them to Putin," Wagner said. "I'm talking about the concept of power and control. ... I didn't say the unions are out killing people."
Still, his remarks drew strong condemnation from the teachers union.
"This kind of language is shocking, offensive and has no place in public discourse. It is so disappointing to see a powerful elected official making such an awful comparison," said Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
John Neurohr, communications director for the progressive group Keystone Progress, also said Wagner has "no sense of what constitutes reasonable political dialogue."
"Pennsylvanians are tired of elected officials who care more about getting attention for extreme comments and creating divisions than about actually getting something done on issues their constituents care about," Neurohr added. "Senator Wagner's remarks are a perfect example of that."
But Wagner isn't backing down. In a press conference Thursday, he again compared unions to dictators and said he had no regrets about his comments. He also told union members who are upset at what he said to "grow up."
"Let's talk about Moammar Gadhafi, let's talk about Saddam Hussein," said Wagner, who also referenced Josef Stalin.
"[W]hen you have power and control with a few people, it is not good," he added.
Labor unions, Democrats and even some Republicans oppose Wagner's bill, arguing that union dues are no different than other automatic deductions from paychecks. Rather, they say, the GOP is trying to cut at union membership and support.
These so-called "paycheck protection" bills have been pushed by conservative groups around the country, with the backing of organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity.
At a rally in January, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale said, “It is nothing more than outside billionaires coming into Pennsylvania to try to silence workers. That’s all this is."
Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.