Top Democratic presidential candidates threaten to boycott debate over labor dispute

'I will not cross the picket line'

Top Democratic presidential candidates threatened to boycott the upcoming debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles over a labor dispute.

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Unite Here Local 11 represents 150 cooks, dishwashers, cashiers and servers employed by Sodexo, which is subcontracted by the university to prepare and serve meals for students and university employees.

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Susan Minato, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said the union has been in negotiations with Sodexo over a contract since March, but that talks broke down on Friday. Picketing began in November.

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“We had hoped that workers would have a contract with wages and affordable health insurance before the debate next week," she said in a statement. "Instead, workers will be picketing when the candidates come to campus."

If the matter is not resolved before the debate on Dec. 19, former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang; and billionaire Tom Steyer have said they will not participate.

The Democratic National Committee already moved the sixth debate to Loyola Marymount because of another union dispute at the original venue, the University of California, Los Angeles.

Two other candidates who are slated to appear on the debate stage next week, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, had not commented on the matter at the time of publication.

Sodexo said in a statement that it is "100 percent committed to reaching an agreement" and that it has not left the bargaining table.

"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,” a Sodexo spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, LMU said it is not part of the negotiations between the food service company and the union.

"The university has encouraged and continues to encourage Sodexo to resolve issues raised by Local 11," the school said in a statement. "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."

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This story has been updated to include statements from Sodexo and LMU.