Democratic debate to go on as planned after labor dispute tentatively resolved
Posted December 17, 2019 9:35 a.m. EST
CNN — The Democratic primary debate scheduled for Thursday will go on as planned, after a labor dispute between a California union and a catering provider that threatened to derail the high-profile event was resolved.
All seven Democratic presidential candidates who met the qualifications to participate in the debate declared their support last week for Unite Here Local 11 and said they would not participate in the debate if they had to cross the union's picket line. The announcements threw the debate planning into turmoil as top officials from the Democratic National Committee, including chairman Tom Perez, spent the weekend frantically working the phones to come to a resolution.
The union announced on Tuesday morning that an agreement was reached on Monday with Sodexo, the catering provider at Loyola-Marymount University; the university is set to host the Thursday debate in Los Angeles.
"Sodexo at Loyola Marymount University and their employees negotiated through Monday evening to secure a tentative contract agreement," the union said in its release. "The Democratic National Committee and Tom Perez worked hard to help bring the situation to a positive resolution."
The agreement still must be ratified by the workers to be official, according to Maria Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the union. That vote will happen Tuesday, Hernandez said.
"I am thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement, and that the candidate debate can continue as scheduled," said Angela Fisher, a prep cook at Loyola Marymount University. "I want to thank the Democratic candidates who stood with us and the Democratic party that helped us win."
"Every worker deserves fair wages and benefits. That's why I was proud to help bring all stakeholders to the table, including UNITE HERE Local 11, Sodexo, and Loyola Marymount University, to reach a deal that meets their needs and supports workers," Perez said in a statement commending the parties for reaching a deal.
Originally, the University of California, Los Angeles, was going to host the December debate, but the DNC moved it to Loyola Marymount over a separate labor dispute.
But less than a week before the debate, United Here 11 made its own labor dispute with Sodexo public, leading Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar all to say they would not participate in the debate if the issue was not resolved.
Xochitl Hinojosa, spokeswoman for the DNC, said last week that the committee and university learned about the labor dispute on Friday, long after they announced the debate.
"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," Hinojosa 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."
That worked continued over the weekend.
"Tom Perez spent the entire weekend on the phone with various stakeholders, including Sodexo, LMU and Unite Here," Hinojosa said. "As a former labor secretary who handled several labor disputes, he understands the importance of getting the parties back to the table and expects that to happen promptly."
Most of the campaigns did not change their plans, indicating that they believed the debate would go on as planned. Many are already on the West Coast for events and fundraisers.
If an agreement was not reached, though, it would have been markedly difficult for the DNC to host the debate given all the preparations and work that have gone into preparing the university.
One key issue: This time of years makes it difficult to find other venues, multiple sources told CNN, given the number of holiday shows (read: The Nutcracker) and basketball games that take up would-be debate venues.