Democratic Candidates Threaten To Skip L.A. Debate After Union Plans Picket Line Amid Labor Dispute

Ted Johnson

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All seven Democratic presidential candidates who qualified for next week’s debate in Los Angeles say that they will not cross picket lines of a service workers’ union seeking a new contract with a food services provider.

The dispute between UNITE HERE Local 11 and Sodexo threatens to throw off plans for the Dec. 19 debate, which is slated for Loyola Marymount University. The union represents university cashiers, cooks, dishwashers and other food service employees; the company contracts with major institutions for food service.

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On Thursday, Local 11 announced that it planned picket lines outside the debate, after Sodexo canceled contract negotiations last week.

“We had hoped that workers would have a contract with wages and affordable health insurance before the debate next week,” the local’s co-president, Susan Minato, said in a statement. “Instead, workers will be picketing when the candidates come to campus.”

PBS NewsHour and Politico are co-hosting the debate, and seven candidates had qualified, according to FiveThirty Eight. They are Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer.

Warren was the first to announce that she would not cross picket lines.

.”@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,” she tweeted.

The six other candidates soon followed. The local had reached out to the campaigns about their plans, a source said.

Xochitl Hinojosa, the DNC’s communications director, said that the DNC and Loyola Marymount learned of the kabor issue earlier today, “and it is our understanding this matter arose within the last day.”

“While LMU is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11, [DNC chair] Tom Perez would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either,” she said. “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 had previously selected UCLA as the site for the December debate, but that location was moved amid a labor dispute on that campus.

A spokesperson for Sodexo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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