December Democratic debate in limbo amid labor dispute

Democratic National Committee

The December Democratic presidential debate is in limbo with just three days before it is scheduled to take place in Los Angeles.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and other top officials spent the weekend working to resolve a labor dispute at Loyola Marymount University, where the debate is set to take place, between Sodexo, a food services company, and the food workers’ union.

All seven Democrats who qualified for the debate have said they will not cross a picket line to participate in the debate. And Unite Here Local 11, the labor union, informed the campaigns on Friday that they will picket the Thursday debate if they cannot reach an agreement with the catering provider.

“Tom Perez spent the entire weekend on the phone with various stakeholders, including Sodexo, LMU and Unite Here,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, DNC spokeswoman. “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.”

A logistical reality facing the DNC is that it is almost impossible to move a debate on such short notice. Among the challenges in doing so: Most potential venues that could hold a debate are already booked with holiday shows, sporting events and more.

For now, the campaigns are operating as if the debate is on, with multiple candidates already making their way out west for events and fundraisers.

Still, the candidates are not budging on their insistence they will not cross a picket line.

“I think there is not going to be a debate so long as there remains a labor dispute,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told reporters in Iowa on Sunday. “I hope and expect the DNC will resolve that.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Saturday in Iowa she hopes the DNC will resolve the dispute, “because I’m not going to cross the picket line — I never have and I’m not going to start now, and I don’t think any Democrat should.”

“It’s really important to me that American working people have a living wage and be treated decently and honorably,” billionaire investor Tom Steyer said Saturday at an education forum in Pennsylvania. “That hasn’t been going on, and to walk away from that during a presidential campaign would be something that to me would be contrary to my basic political thinking and my feelings as a human being, so I’m not going to do it.”

Businessman Andrew Yang said Friday in Iowa that he stands “with the rights of the workers.”

“If there’s a problem that union workers don’t feel like they have been properly included in the actual staging of the debate, then I am very happy to stand with workers,” Yang said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have also qualified for the debate.

Democrats in November already moved the upcoming debate from its original location, the University of California, Los Angeles, to Loyola Marymount after the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees asked candidates to honors its three-year boycott of the University of California system amid their labor dispute.

The questions surrounding Thursday’s debate come amid another controversy around the debate: The DNC’s higher polling and fundraising thresholds have made Yang the only non-white candidate to qualify for the December showdown.

On Saturday, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign sent Perez a letter — signed by Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who also missed the cut, as well as all seven candidates who qualified for the December debate — complaining that “escalating thresholds over the past few months have unnecessarily and artificially narrowed what started as the strongest and most diverse Democratic field in history before voters have had a chance to be heard.”

The candidates asked the DNC to allow candidates to qualify via meeting either polling thresholds or fundraising thresholds — as opposed to the DNC rules that require candidates to hit both.