Democrats threaten to boycott next week's presidential debate over labor dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) — All seven Democratic presidential candidates who qualified for next week's debate threatened on Friday to skip the event if an ongoing labor dispute forces them to cross picket lines on the campus hosting it.

The Democratic National Committee said it is trying to come up with an "acceptable resolution" to the situation so the debate can proceed.

A labor union called UNITE HERE Local 11 says it will picket as Loyola Marymount University hosts Thursday's sixth Democratic debate of the cycle, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders responded by tweeting they wouldn't participate if that meant crossing it. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, environmental activist Tom Steyer and businessman Andrew Yang followed suit.

"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," Warren tweeted.

Sanders tweeted, "I will not be crossing their picket line," while Biden tweeted: "We've got to stand together with @UNITEHERE11 for affordable health care and fair wages. A job is about more than just a paycheck. It's about dignity." The other candidates used Twitter to post similar sentiments.

UNITE HERE Local 11 says it represents 150 cooks, dishwashers, cashiers, and servers working on the Loyola Marymount campus. It says it has been in negotiations with a food service company since March for a collective bargaining agreement without reaching a resolution, and "workers and students began picketing on campus in November to voice their concern for a fair agreement. The company abruptly canceled scheduled contract negotiations last week."

"We had hoped that workers would have a contract with wages and affordable health insurance before the debate next week. Instead, workers will be picketing when the candidates come to campus," Susan Minato, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, said in the statement.

DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said both the DNC and the university found out about the issue earlier Friday, but expressed support for the union and the candidates' boycott, stating that 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," she said in a statement.

The DNC also confirmed that seven candidates had hit both the fundraising and polling qualifications to appear at the debate.

The lineup is a blow to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who launched a late six-figure digital and radio advertising push to hit the polling threshold to make the debate, but failed to win the 4 percent support needed in any qualifying surveys. He and former Housing Secretary Juli á n Castro — the only Latino candidate in the field, who also failed to make the debate — have been outspoken critics of the DNC for a process they say has disadvantaged minority candidates by emphasizing small-dollar donors, who tend to be overwhelmingly white, older and well-off.

While California Sen. Kamala Harris, one of just two other African American candidates in the field, qualified for the December debate, she dropped out of the race last week because of fundraising struggles. Yang is the only minority candidate who made the stage.

Loyola Marymount said that it is not a party to the contract negotiations but that it had contacted the food services company involved, Sodexo, and encouraged it "to resolve the issues raised by Local 11."

"Earlier today, LMU asked Sodexo to meet with Local 11 next week to advance negotiations and solutions. LMU is not an agent nor a joint employer of Sodexo, nor of the Sodexo employees assigned to our campus," the university said in a statement. "LMU is proud to host the DNC presidential debate and is committed to ensuring that the university is a rewarding place to learn, live, and work."

This is the second location site set to host the December debate. In October, the DNC announced it wouldn't be holding a debate at the University of California, Los Angeles because of "concerns raised by the local organized labor community" and was moving the event to Loyola Marymount.

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Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.

 

 

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