Democratic Candidates May Skip Presidential Debate Over Labor Dispute

A labor dispute is threatening to disrupt next week’s presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in California.

All seven of the Democratic presidential candidates have said they will not attend if the issue is not resolved in time. 

LMU has a contract with Sodexo for its food service operations. Unite Here Local 11 represents 150 cooks, dishwashers, cashiers and servers employed by Sodexo who prepare and serve meals for students and university employees.

Susan Minato, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said the union has been in negotiations with the company over a contract for the past month ― but it all broke down on Friday. 

“Honestly, the proposals are relatively modest ― living wage, improvements on health care,” she said. “So we did not anticipate that there would be majority difficulty over it. But we were wrong. They abruptly canceled negotiations. I believe they were for today. And so that put us in the position of really declaring that this is a true fight now.”

“Sodexo is 100% committed to reaching an agreement, and any statement that we have left the bargaining table is not accurate,” a Sodexo spokesperson said. “We have been negotiating in good faith with the Unite Here Local 11 since December of last year with a goal to reach a new collective bargaining agreement that is equitable for everyone, including our employees, and we still intend to achieve such an agreement.”

“Earlier today, LMU asked Sodexo to meet with Local 11 next week to advance negotiations and solutions,” an LMU spokesperson said in a statement on Friday. “LMU is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11. The university has encouraged and continues to encourage Sodexo to resolve issues raised by Local 11.”

The union will be picketing the debate next Thursday unless the dispute is resolved. 

“We would hope that the candidates would honor that picket line,” Minato said. She added that the goal is a settlement; the union does not want to see the debate canceled. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the first to say that she would not cross a picket line, tweeting that she stands with the union. The other candidates who had qualified for the debate followed suit soon after.

“While LMU is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11, [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Tom Perez would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement on Friday. “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.”

The DNC moved the December debate to LMU because there was also a union dispute at the original venue, the University of California, Los Angeles.

This piece has been updated with additional candidate comments, statements from LMU and the DNC, and a response from Sodexo. 

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