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How To Keep Public Workers Safe As America Emerges From Lockdown

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Steve Scarpa began fishing antibacterial wipes, socks, and even T-shirts out of the sewers in Groton, Connecticut.

Scarpa, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9411 and a member of the city's wastewater treatment crew, said residents went into "mad hysteria cleaning mode" and simply flushed potentially contaminated objects down the toilet.

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Activists Confident Ahead of Wisconsin Recalls

Six Republican State Senators face recall elections in Wisconsin on Tuesday, capping a months-long effort to make Gov. Scott Walker and his party pay for stripping public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, and interviews with the national and local groups active on the ground and a survey of public polls suggest Democrats are more likely than not to seize control of the State Senate, though rolling back Walker’s anti-union law is another matter entirely.

“Right now the momentum is on the Democratic side and it’s likely we’re going to see a victory to turn the Senate over on Tuesday. We’ll get what we need,” said Levana Layendecker, communications director for Democracy for America, which has made over 300,000 phone calls, knocked on 70,000 doors, and spent some $2 million on TV ads.

She cited polling — mostly done by Democratic firms — showing at least three of the districts (the minimum neeeded to flip the Senate) trending toward the Democratic challengers. We Are Wisconsin, a Democratic-affiliated group active there, was more conservative in its projections.

“In our final days, we remain cautiously optimistic about our chances to take back the Senate. But predictions of victory at this point are beyond premature – they’re dangerous,” Field Director Kristen Crowell said. The group was relatively confident about snagging 2 seats but hedged on the critical third.

The movement erupted in February, when Scott Walker presented a budget proposal that included evisceration of union organizing rights. State Senate Democrats fled the state to prevent a quoroum — and a vote — but were eventually outmaneuvred when Walker decoupled the union bill from the broader budget legislation. Both passed the Republican-dominated legislature, and Walker’s approval numbers have tanked in their wake.

“Our polls internally show us ahead or in striking distance in every one of these races. We’re pretty cponfident we’re gonna be in control of the Senate come tomorrow night,” said Graeme Zielinski, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “We’re in ground game mode right now and are very confident that we have done the work that’s necessary.”

A mid-July poll by the University of Wisconsin found nearly 60 percent of state residents disapproving of their governor, though Democrats didn’t fare all that well either, at 48 percent disapproval.

“We have an opportunity to win some races. We like our chances,” said Randy Borntrager, political director for People For The American Way, another Democratic group going all-in on the recall fight.

“It’s the right thing to do to stop this right-wing agenda from going to other states. It’ll send a message to Washington: you should listen to middle class families and not the Tea Party. It’s remarkable right now what’s already happened with teachers and students and firefighters in Wisconsin.”

The drive represents an historically unlikely mass-recall campaign against incumbent legislators, one that was met with skepticism at first before the enduring activism signaled Labor and its allies in the broader progressive community mean business. Even if it succeeds, Republicans will still control the State Assembly and governor’s office; the earliest Walker could be recalled is in 2012.

New Jersey Public Workers Protest Benefit Changes

Hundreds of New Jersey public workers took to the streets in Trenton to protest a bill that would force them to pay more for their health benefits and pension plans. Top lawmakers, including Governor Chris Christie, have signaled support for the plan.

“You can’t pit the public against the public employees,” Florence Detofsky, a retired teacher who joined the protests, told “They’re supposed to give us a pension, and they’re trying to whittle it down.”

UPDATE: Wisconsin Supreme Court Capitulates on Labor

In a quick and stunning move by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, tens of thousands of public workers lost their collective bargaining rights when the Court held that the anti-union law passed this winter was lawful and could go forward. This comes as a huge victory for Gov. Scott Walker and could set a precedent for other Republican-controlled states.