2020 Democrats Threaten to Boycott Debate Over Labor Dispute

All of the Democratic presidential candidates who have qualified for next week’s primary debate are threatening to boycott it in response to a labor dispute between a food service company and workers at Loyola Marymount University, which is hosting the event.

Members of Unite Here Local 11, a union representing food service employees at Loyola Marymount, in Los Angeles, are in negotiations with the university’s food service provider, Sodexo. The union said in a statement on Friday that it had been unable to reach an agreement.

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

It is not unusual for unions to make such threats as a negotiating tactic with the intention of reaching a deal before the event.

But by Friday afternoon, all seven candidates who are set to appear on the debate stage next Thursday — Joseph R. Biden Jr., Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang — had pledged not to cross a picket line, raising the prospect of a boycott.

“The DNC should find a solution that lives up to our party’s commitment to fight for working people,” Ms. Warren, who was the first candidate to make the pledge, tweeted. “I will not cross the union’s picket line even if it means missing the debate.”

The Democratic National Committee said it was considering how to proceed.

“While L.M.U. is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11, Tom Perez would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either,” Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman for the committee, said in a statement, referring to the committee chairman. “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.”

Loyola Marymount said that it was not a party to the dispute, but that it had “asked Sodexo to meet with Local 11 next week to advance negotiations and solutions.”

“L.M.U. is proud to host the D.N.C. presidential debate and is committed to ensuring that the university is a rewarding place to learn, live and work,” it said.

A spokesman for Sodexo said the company was “100 percent committed to reaching an agreement, and any statement that we have left the bargaining table is not accurate.”

The D.N.C. chose Loyola Marymount as a debate site last month under pressure from organized labor. It moved the event from the original location, the University of California, Los Angeles, because of an ongoing labor dispute there.

This is not the first time a strike or potential strike has disrupted debate plans. In 2007, the Democratic National Committee canceled a debate after the top three presidential candidates at the time said they would not cross a Writers Guild of America picket line outside the CBS studios where the debate was to be held.

And in 2015, the D.N.C. removed the New Hampshire television station WMUR as a debate sponsor because a labor dispute at the station could have led to a picket line.

Reid J. Epstein and Jennifer Medina contributed reporting.

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