All seven of the Democratic presidential candidates who have qualified for next week’s scheduled debate in Los Angeles threatened Friday to skip the event to express support for union workers involved in a contract dispute at Loyola Marymount University.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first to jump into the fray, declaring in a tweet that she would miss the debate rather than cross a picket line.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Vice President Joe Biden, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar followed with similar statements, as did former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who has not qualified for the debate.
The dispute between union cooks, dishwashers and servers at Loyola and Sodexo, the company that runs the school’s food service, is the second labor action that has threatened the Thursday debate. In November, the Democratic National Committee moved the debate to Loyola from UCLA because of a contract dispute there involving the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. The DNC and university learned of the latest issue Friday, committee officials said.
.@UniteHere11 is fighting for better wages and benefits—and I stand with them. The DNC should find a solution that lives up to our party's commitment to fight for working people. I will not cross the union's picket line even if it means missing the debate.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) December 13, 2019
“It is our understanding this matter arose within the last day,” DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa said Friday. “While LMU is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11, [DNC Chairman] Tom Perez would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either. We are working with all stakeholders to find an acceptable resolution that meets their needs and is consistent with our values and will enable us to proceed as scheduled with next week’s debate.”
Perez, who was secretary of Labor under President Obama, has mediated labor disputes in the past.
Unite Here Local 11, which represents roughly 150 Sodexo employees at Loyola Marymount, said the union has been in contract negotiation since March and began picketing last month.
“We had hoped that workers would have a contract with wages and affordable health insurance before the debate next week,” Susan Minato, the local’s co-president, said in a statement.
“We felt it was imperative to let the candidates know and understand what our labor dispute is and the fact that we will be out there [picketing] the day they were supposed to be at the debate,” said Ada Briceño, the local’s co-president and chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Orange County.
As for the candidates’ boycott plans, “of course it feels great to see,” Briceño said. “It’s not just words, but they’re walking the walk, it’s action. We’re enlisting the help of the candidates and the general public to help us reach an agreement.”
The LMU workers are continuing to work under their last contact, which expired in March; the workers earn between $13.25 and $16 an hour, the union said.
“Because we have seen [the talks] go nowhere, in November we started picketing,” Briceño said.
Briceño said Sodexo, a global food services concern based in France, also canceled negotiating sessions scheduled for the remainder of this month and “told us they were available in January.”
Sodexo, when asked to comment on the candidates’ plans, issued a statement saying that it was “100% committed to reaching an agreement, and any statement that we have left the bargaining table is not accurate.”
“We have been negotiating in good faith with the United Here Local 11 since December of last year” to reach a new contract that’s “equitable for everyone, including our employees, and we still intend to achieve such an agreement,” Sodexo said.
The university released a statement Friday noting that it “is not a party to the negotiations” between Sodexo and the union local.
“The university has encouraged and continues to encourage Sodexo to resolve issues raised by Local 11. Earlier today, LMU asked Sodexo to meet with Local 11 next week to advance negotiations and solutions,” the statement read. “LMU is not an agent nor a joint employer of Sodexo, nor of the Sodexo employees assigned to our campus.”
Lauter reported from Washington and Peltz from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Evan Halper in Washington contributed to this report.