Democrats pull presidential primary debate from UCLA over union boycott

Sen. Bernie Sanders at UCLA strike
Sen. Bernie Sanders joins workers during a one-day strike at UCLA on March 20.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The Democratic National Committee has yanked its Dec. 19 presidential primary debate from UCLA in solidarity with labor unions that are engaged in disputes with the university.

Mary Beth Cahill, a senior advisor to the DNC, said the party had asked the debate’s media sponsors, “PBS NewsHour” and Politico, to find an alternative site “in response to concerns raised by the local organized labor community.”

The sixth debate of candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination was scheduled to take place at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“With regret,” UCLA said Wednesday in a written statement, “we have agreed to step aside as the site of the debate rather than become a potential distraction during this vitally important time in our country’s history.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the nation’s most powerful unions, asked Democratic presidential candidates on Tuesday to honor its three-year boycott on speakers participating in events at UCLA. AFSCME Local 3299, which represents patient care workers, is in protracted contract negotiations with the university system.


Local 3299 praised the DNC on Wednesday for joining its “fight for fair treatment from California’s 3rd largest employer.”

“Just as our next President must work to heal the divisions in our country, they must also work to confront the staggering inequality and mistreatment of low-wage workers that have become all too common in today’s economy,” the local said in a written statement.

In March, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading candidate for the party nomination, joined a UCLA picket line of another union, the University Professional and Technical Employees, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, which represents research and technical workers. Since then, that union has reached a contract with UCLA, according to a representative for the local.

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