All 120 legislative seats and the governorship are up for election Nov. 5.
Sweeney, general organizer of the International Association of Ironworkers, and others also spoke of the need to fend off any movement to enact legislation, known as "right-to-work" laws, that would ban requirements that workers pay union fees as a condition of employment, among other things.
Michigan, a former bastion of organized labor, became the latest state to pass such legislation in December, stoking fears of a larger crackdown on union clout. Such laws exist in 24 states.
"We've heard about 'right to work.' It happens over there, doesn't happen here," Sweeney said. "Never happened in New Jersey. You want to bet? Do you want to bet? Elections have consequences. We've got to get real partisan and real political."
Beyond state politics, Sweeney talked about the high stakes in the special U.S. Senate election Oct. 16 featuring Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan.
Calling Lonegan a "scary, scary guy," Sweeney said, "We have enough tea party people in this country right now that are destroying this economy and destroying the middle class."
Electing Booker would help strengthen New Jersey's middle class, Sweeney said. Booker said lawmakers in Washington are "scheming to roll back workers' rights."
Lonegan strategist Rick Shaftan noted that Democrats control the White House and Senate. "So what's [Sweeney] talking about? Is he talking about his president?
"Any time Steve Sweeney attacks Steve Lonegan, [Lonegan] takes that as a personal compliment."
Democrats also spoke with urgency about raising the minimum wage. A question to raise the minimum wage by a dollar an hour from $7.25 to $8.25 and index it to inflation will be on the ballot in November's elections.
An April Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed broad support for the measure, with 76 percent of New Jersey's registered voters in favor of it and 20 percent against it.
"We dignify our workers with an increase in the minimum wage and tying it to cost of living," Buono said. "That means if you're a man or a woman in New Jersey, if you get sick, or your child gets sick, you shouldn't have to worry about taking a day off and not getting paid for it."
Labor leaders on Friday also awarded 25 scholarships of $1,000 each to students in union families who are attending local colleges.
State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) received the 2013 George E. Norcross Jr. Humanitarian Award for community service, named after his late father. Norcross is an assistant business manager at IBEW Local 351 and former president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO.
Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, aseidman@ phillynews.com, or follow @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.