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National

Labor Day Campaigning Occupies Presidential Hopefuls

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And on a holiday that signals the end of summer, candidates made the rounds of Labor Day festivals, parades and picnics yesterday. It also, though, kicks off what will be a more intense stage of the presidential campaign. For Democrats, it was a day to make an impression with union members who play an outsized role motivating and turning out voters for labor-endorsed candidates. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea checked in.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Every year, the Quad City's labor federation sponsors a local Labor Day parade. Unions build floats. Kids ride in back of pickup trucks and toss candy. The Cambridge High School Marching Band plays Bon Jovi.

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GONYEA: This is in Moline, Ill. Iowa is just a short ride over the Mississippi River. Also in the parade are groups waving campaign signs.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bernie 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Bernie.

GONYEA: And not 10 feet behind them...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Labor for Hillary. Happy Labor Day.

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GONYEA: Also on the Quad City's area, Hillary Clinton spoke at a labor picnic.

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HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I know, standing here before you, that one of my principal jobs as your president will be to defend the right to organize and bargain collectively on behalf of hard-working Americans.

GONYEA: In Manchester, N.H., the big draw was Bernie Sanders.

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BERNIE SANDERS: The reason that people are working longer hours and in some cases not making enough money to feed their kids is that for many Americans, wages in this country are just too damn low.

GONYEA: And at the big Labor Day Parade in Pittsburgh, Vice President Joe Biden, who's not a candidate but is thinking about it. Some chanted, run, Joe, run.

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JOE BIDEN: Our job is one thing, all of you, to make sure every parent can look their kid in the eye knowing they put in a full day's work and say, honey, it's going to be OK. That's what labor's about. That's what unions are about.

GONYEA: For labor, the stakes in 2016 are very high. It faces a GOP Congress hostile to its agenda. And the movement has seen setbacks on the state level, as in Wisconsin, where bargaining rights were slashed for public employee unions. President Obama has disappointed labor by pushing for a big Asia-Pacific trade deal. But unions still see him as a friend and advocate. And the post-Obama years approach. Lee Saunders is the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

LEE SAUNDERS: In 2016 or 2017 and beyond, we could have the possibility of having three or four vacancies in the Supreme Court. We've got to have a president who cares about working families so they can appoint Supreme Court justices who believe that also.

GONYEA: Most unions are now deciding which Democrat to endorse. The American Federation of Teachers has already backed Hillary Clinton. The National Nurses United Union supports Bernie Sanders. Marc Wallace is an AFSCME member in Des Moines. He's undecided but says he's OK if his union takes a while to endorse.

MARC WALLACE: I think a lot of times, if you've already made your decision, people can move on. And I think it's important for all of us to drag that out a little bit actually.

GONYEA: Wallace says that can increase labor's leverage with candidates while also keeping labor's issues front and center. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Davenport, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.