Dems celebrate Labor Day


The most visible Democratic presidential candidates made their way to the Hawkeye State for the holiday weekend.

By Rebecca Morin
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In just 72 hours, Bernie Sanders picketed with labor workers on First Street in Cedar Rapids, away from Penford Products — where many of them are employed;

Hillary Clinton was swarmed with questions and selfie requests by retired or current union members and their families at a picnic in Cedar Rapids; and Martin O’Malley spoke with Iowans, many of whom were wearing Sanders or Clinton shirts, at City Park in hopes to win their vote.

Though labor unions are shrinking in membership, they are still important because of the number of organizations and money they contribute to the Democratic constituency, said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

That is why the three-day Labor Day weekend brought Sen. Sanders, I-Vt., former Secretary of State Clinton, and former Maryland Gov. O’Malley to the Hawkeye State for a combined total of 20 separate events.

“Labor Day is a very symbolic time in politics,” Yepsen said, adding that historically this would be around the time contenders vying for president would begin campaigning. “This is a chance for candidates to hone a message at that constituency group.”

But this past weekend’s visits were not just to gain labor union support, Yepsen said, but to talk issues that face American workers such as minimum wage and better working conditions.

“We have this growing problem of declining middle class,” he said. “Even Americans that are not members of labor unions are very stressed and upset. A lot of people are sympathetic with what unions are talking about.”

Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFLCIO, said with caucuses several months out, members of the organization have been mobilizing and educating each other on where the different candidates stand on workers’ issues.

That is the very reason Shuler said she visited the Cedar Rapids event on Monday, to see what members are talking about.

“I think people are evaluating their stance,” Shuler said. “This, to me, is the perfect way [candidates can] get to know them, and [Iowans] have a process that is more rigorous than any other place.”

According to the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll, 37 percent of likely caucus-goers said Clinton would be their first choice for president.

Thirty percent of likely caucus-goers said Sanders would be their first choice. O’Malley was left in the single digits, with only 3 percent saying he would be their first choice.

With 404 Democratic caucus-goers surveyed, there is a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Though the candidates brought in their die-hard supporters, there were still voters — especially those in labor unions — who attended the events who are waiting to be swayed.

Linda Svoboda, a retired member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, attended the Sanders’ Sept. 4 event at Coe College as well as the Hawkeye Labor Council AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic on Monday.

The Cedar Rapids resident said she was still unsure of whom she is going to vote for, but knows that she will vote for whoever is the nominee.

“I think Hillary [Clinton] needs to talk more about economic inequality, about controlling the banks and the financial industry,” Svoboda said. “I agree with everything Bernie Sanders says. I’m worried to whether or not he has a broad enough attraction to win a general election.”

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