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Labor dispute settled; Democratic debate saved

LOS ANGELES — The Democratic presidential debate Dec. 19 will go on as scheduled thanks to a tentative agreement announced Dec. 17 on a three-year contract for about 150 food-service workers at Loyola Marymount University, ending a labor dispute that threatened to derail the event.

The labor dispute between the workers’ union and a food services contractor at the university could have upended the nationally televised debate, with the seven participating Democrats saying they would not cross a picket line.

But after a long weekend of discussions and a marathon negotiating session Dec. 16, the UNITE HERE Local 11 union and the food services company, Sodexo, announced that a tentative deal had been reached.

According to the union, the tentative agreement is a three-year contract that includes a 25% increase in compensation, a 50% drop in health-care costs and increases in workers’ job security. Many of the workers previously made less than $15 an hour, according to the union.

“I am thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement, and that the candidate debate can continue as scheduled,” Angela Fisher, a prep cook at LMU, said in a statement released by the union. “:I want to thank the Democratic candidates who stood with us and the Democratic Party that helped us win.”

Union officials said Democratic National Committee Tom Perez got personally involved to help resolve the stalemate.

“This is really an important and wonderful day for workers, the labor movement and for all of those who believe in workers and employers coming together through collective bargaining to form win-win solutions,” Perez said at an afternoon news conference at UNITE HERE’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

He said the agreement “is also an important reminder of our values as a Democratic Party,” adding, “every single Democrat running for president believes in the importance of collective bargaining.”

Sodexo released a statement confirming the deal.

“Sodexo has agreements with UNITE HERE at more than 70 sites across the country, and we are very happy our positive working relationship can continue with improved benefits and wages for our employees on the campus of LMU,” the company’s statement said. “We have been a member of the LMU community since 1975 and are excited to continue working with our partners on campus to welcome the Democratic presidential debate.”

Threats to the debate began Dec. 12 when union officials announced a stall in labor talks, although a Sodexo spokesman denied that the company had ever walked away from the negotiating table.

The dispute led to a parade of statements from the Democratic presidential hopefuls, starting with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, insisting they would skip the debate rather than cross a union picket line. By the end of the day Dec. 13, all seven candidates announced their solidarity with the union, saying they would not attend unless the labor dispute was resolved.

“You have won,” Warren told UNITE HERE members at the union news conference. “All across this country, working families are faced with two options — they can back down or they can roll up their sleeves and get in the fight. … When workers fight together, workers win. … When we all fight together, all of us win.”

She said the battle that the union fought for a new contract is one that “workers all across the country are facing.”

“Let us never forget, unions built America’s middle class and unions will rebuild America’s middle class,” she said.LMU officials, who had no direct hand in the labor talks between the union and food-service contractor but offered assistance in reaching a resolution, expressed gratitude at the outcome.

“Over the weekend, senior leaders from LMU met with representatives from Sodexo and UNITE HERE local 11 to understand better their perspectives and advocate for earnest engagement and progress toward a resolution,” according to the university. “LMU values all members of our community and seeks to honor the dignity of all who learn, live and work at the university, consistent with our values and rooted in our Catholic, Jesuit and Marymount mission. We are pleased with this outcome and glad that we were able to play a constructive role by bringing the negotiating parties together.”

The debate was originally set to be held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, but it was moved to LMU because candidates balked at going to the campus due to a separate union labor dispute there involving AFSCME Local 3299, a union representing more than 25,000 University of California service and patient technical care workers.

The debate will be hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, air live on PBS and be live-streamed across PBS NewsHour digital platforms and on Politico’s digital and social platforms.

Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg all qualified to participate in the debate. 

Many of them are planning various appearances in the Southland in advance of and following the debate. 

From City News Service