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Democratic Candidates May Skip Debate over Labor Dispute

UNITE HERE 11 is asking candidates to boycott Thursday's debate unless a contract is worked out

Brian Young's picture
Dec 16, 2019

With just three days until the last Democratic debate of 2019, there are questions swirling about whether the debate will be able to take place. This is thanks to a labor dispute at the debate location.

Over the weekend Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials, including former Labor Secretary and current DNC chair Tom Perez, stepped in to try and mediate the problems between UNITE HERE Local 11 and Loyola Marymount’s food service contractor Sodexo. The need for outside intervention came after the union announced on Friday that they would be picketing at the debate and informed the candidates that this would be an official picket line that should not be crossed.

The union represents 150 cooks, dishwashers, cashiers, and servers on the campus who prepare and serve meals at the dining halls and catering facilities. They have been negotiating with Sodexo since March, but have seen little progress. Last week the company abruptly canceled a scheduled contract negotiation session. Workers and students have been ramping up the pressure on the university since November with pickets on campus.

Within hours of being informed of the picket, the campaigns that have qualified for the debate sent out statements or tweets informing the debate committee that they would not cross the picket line. Perez also said in a statement that he absolutely would not cross a picket line and that the DNC would not expect any candidate to either.

This is now the second time that the DNC has had a problem with the December debate. In November they were forced to move the debate from UCLA after AFSCME asked the candidates to honor their three-year-old fight with the University of California. They have previously called boycotts around major events like the spring commencement in 2019.  

Perez and other DNC officials spent the weekend pressuring Sodexo to get back to the table and bargain. "Tom Perez spent the entire weekend on the phone with various stakeholders, including Sodexo, LMU, and Unite Here," said Xochitl Hinojosa, DNC spokeswoman to CNN. "As a former labor secretary who handled several labor disputes, he understands the importance of getting the parties back to the table, and expects that to happen promptly."

It would seem that this pressure from the candidates and the DNC has helped to push Sodexo back into negotiations.

“We want to thank the nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination who have expressed their support,” said Local 11 Co-President Susan Minato. “Sodexo workers at Loyola Marymount University are fighting for a fair contract with better wages & affordable healthcare. We look forward to continuing negotiations with Sodexo Tuesday or sooner in hopes of reaching an agreement before Thursday’s debate.”

With it being nearly impossible to find an alternate location on such short notice, Perez has been forced to step in and mediate the dispute.

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