In a move that will undoubtedly puzzle if not enrage conservative voters, Herman Cain said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Monday that he supported the rights of public workers to collectively bargain. He also said he believed that Ohio Gov. John Kasich went too far when he tried to strip those rights with Senate Bill 5.
On the issue of collective bargaining, Cain said he supported the right of public employees to bargain collectively.
"But not collective hijacking. What I mean by that, if they have gotten so much for so many years and it's going to bankrupt the state, I don't think that's good. It appears that in some instances, they really don't care."
Asked about last week's vote in Ohio, in which the state's new collective bargaining law was rejected by voters, Cain said that "maybe they tried to get too much and as a result it failed."
Cain also said in the interview that he would support collective bargaining for federal employees. In fact, he seemed to believe they currently enjoy those rights, the Journal Sentinel reported. "Asked if he thought federal employees should have the ability to bargain collectively, Cain said: 'They already have it, don't they?'"
Cain's answer means he is more progressive on the issue than Mitt Romney, who notably endorsed Kasich's SB 5, then declined to comment on a campaign to repeal it before finally coming out against that campaign. And while it may make some political sense for Cain to make this case in the course of a general election campaign -- Kasich's polling numbers have plummeted -- it will do him no favors in the primary.
Also notable is the fact that Cain gave his response to a Milwaukee-based newspaper, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, like Kasich, is staunchly anti-union and has advanced legislation that curbs collective bargaining rights.
The timing of the discussion with the Journal Sentinel's editorial board struck some as odd, given that Wisconsin does not play an active role in the early part of the primary season. Ellen Carmichael, Cain's former spokeswoman, tweeted: "Question not meant to disparage Herman or the great state of Wisconsin: why would someone meet with the Journal Sentinel ed board right now?"
UPDATE: 6:15 p.m. -- AFSCME, the union that represents public workers, quickly praised Cain's stance Monday afternoon. Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24 in Wisconsin, sent the following statement to The Huffington Post:
Voters from across party lines and the country support collective bargaining. Even Herman Cain can read a poll. We hope that he took advantage of his time in the state to call Governor Walker to urge him to repeal the anti-worker legislation he rammed through this year.
Amanda Terkel contributed reporting.
On Tuesday, the Cain campaign said the presidential candidate supported Walker's anti-union measure.
"[Cain] has always supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to balance his state budget and give his state's government the tools it needs during the ongoing economic crisis," the campaign said in a statement, according to The Hill.
WATCH CAIN'S INTERVIEW HERE: