Acting Labor Department head Seth Harris gave a speech to the International Association of Firefighters Monday in which he tore into corporate leaders and small government conservatives in Congress:

We’re facing ideological contempt for public employees and public employee unions that is unprecedented in its dishonesty and ferocity. Lawmakers and elected officials from coast to coast have decided to scapegoat public employees for their own failures to properly manage state and local fiscal challenges.

How many of you heard this one that was making the rounds a few years ago? A unionized public employee, a small-government conservative, and a CEO are sitting around a table with a plate that has a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the conservative and says: “Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie.”

It’s really unfathomable how many pundits and professional political hatchetmen looked around and somehow decided it wasn’t reckless Wall Street shenanigans that crashed our economy under President Bush. Instead, they tell us, it was dedicated public servants barely getting by on middle-class wages. Have any of you ever met a firefighter who got a multi-million dollar bonus? They’re as common as unicorns being ridden by leprechauns with angels sitting on their shoulders.

If the financial sector was too big to fail… then I think America’s firefighters’ courage is too big for us to fail them.

Let’s be clear: this is not a question of you being asked to give a little more. This isn’t about deferring a wage increase here, or upping your contribution to the pension plan there. We all know many of you have had to offer concessions at the bargaining table on occasion to share the sacrifice demanded by tough financial times like these.

That’s not going to be enough for those who’ve singled you out. They want to tear apart that bargaining table until it’s a pile of firewood. Their goal isn’t to give you a little haircut; their goal is to cut off your head. Their goal, through a campaign of denigration, distortion and demonization, is to destroy public employee unions as we know them, to eliminate them as a force in American life. (Emphasis added.)

The attack on CEOs was ironic in this context as firefighters are public employees, not private ones.

Harris also denounced efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kaisch to rein in public sector unions in their states, adding that the administration was with the unions, at least rhetorically: “We stand with you on this. President Obama has made clear that unions are part of the solution to our economic challenges, not part of the problem. If we’re going to have growth and widely-shared prosperity, then workers have to have a voice.”

Hat tip: The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier