President Obama warned Monday against vilifying public workers, making his first allusion to the labor dispute in Wisconsin in a week and a half.

The president, speaking Monday to a bipartisan group of governors at the White House, warned against using public servants as scapegoats, a not-so-subtle reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) pursuit of legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers.


"I don't think it does anybody any good when public servants are denigrated, or vilified, or have their rights infringed upon," Obama said.

The president has been largely silent on the labor dispute, which prompted weeks of demonstrations in Madison by pro-labor crowds, since saying on Feb. 17 that Walker's plan represents an "assault on unions."

Some Democrats have clamored for more a more vocal stance by Obama on behalf of pro-labor forces in Wisconsin, but amid major international developments in Libya over the past week, the president has largely let surrogates — namely Vice President Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis — take the lead on the issue.

Obama framed his comments in the context of a larger conversation about entitlement reform at the state and federal level.

"We need a conversation about pensions and Medicare and Medicaid and other promises we've made as a nation," he said.