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December Democratic presidential debate in L.A. back on track as union reaches tentative deal

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren congratulates members of the Unite Here Local 11 union on resolving a labor dispute with Sodexo at Loyola Marymount University.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

A Democratic presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles is back on track after a labor dispute there was ended Tuesday morning.

The televised debate, set for Thursday, had been in peril since last week, when Democratic presidential candidates announced they would boycott the event because a labor union was planning to picket on debate night. The dispute was between Sodexo, a food services contractor on the private university’s Westside campus, and Unite Here Local 11, which represents about 150 campus employees.

Unite Here Local 11 said the food services workers had reached a tentative agreement for a three-year contract with Sodexo for “a 25% increase in compensation, a 50% drop in healthcare costs, and increases [in] workers’ job security.” Many of the workers previously made less than $15 an hour.

The union credited Democratic National Committee Chairman and former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez for helping end the dispute.

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“He was calling me constantly, he was calling LMU, he was calling the union,” California state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a former president of the union, said at a Tuesday news conference. “He was calling everybody nonstop every day to make sure that this really got on the right track.”

Co-president Susan Minato hailed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a “hero” for being the first presidential candidate to publicly stand with the union last week, when she announced her intention Friday on Twitter. Other candidates followed soon after.

Warren showed up to the news conference at the union local to congratulate the members.

“All across this country, working families are faced with two options. They can back down, or they can roll up their sleeves and get in the fight. The workers of Unite Here get in the fight,” Warren said. “Let us never forget, unions built America’s middle class, and unions will rebuild America’s middle class.”

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In a statement, Sodexo said it was happy about the contract deal. “We have been a member of the LMU community since 1975 and are excited to continue working with our partners on campus to welcome the Democratic presidential debate,” the statement said.

The Loyola Marymount showdown was the second time that a labor dispute nearly derailed a Democratic debate in Los Angeles.

The debate was originally scheduled to take place at UCLA but had to be moved in early November after Democrats realized that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 was boycotting campus speakers in protest of the university’s use of temps and contractors.

Democrats have been hoping to win organized labor’s support in the primary and general election, and the unions have been appreciative of the candidates’ support in their contract disputes.

“These candidates have all spoken extensively about the need to stand up for working families, and it was certainly a good thing to see them all stand in solidarity with us, as they did along with the DNC,” said Todd Stenhouse, a spokesperson for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.


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