By Kellie Chudzinski

Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined campus food service workers to celebrate their new contract, brokered with the help of DNC Chair Tom Perez (far right)
Photo by Kellie Chudzinski

UCLA’s loss of the Dec. 19 Democratic Presidential Primary Debate when candidates refused to cross a labor dispute picket line became Loyola Marymount University’s opportunity to shine — until stalled contract negotiations between union workers and campus food service subcontractor Sodexo once again left Thursday’s event in limbo.

But with the help of Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 150 hospitality workers organized under UNITE HERE Local 11 voted unanimously on Tuesday to
ratify a new contract, allowing the debate to proceed.

“I’m ready to dance on the debate stage,” Warren said Tuesday during a press conference at the union’s Inglewood office. Warren was the first candidate to announce she would skip the LMU debate rather than cross a picket line, and the six other candidates to qualify for the debate quickly followed.

Perez and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined union officials and representatives of LMU and Sodexo over the weekend to resolve the dispute, which had been ongoing for months. Workers began protesting in November after negotiations that began in the spring stalled out.

According to a statement, a late Monday night agreement culminated in a three-year deal that will increase wages by 25%, reduce worker health insurance costs by 50% and provide more job security.

The DNC chair and labor leader turned state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo joined union members and Warren at the press conference.

“This agreement is really a vivid example of the power of collective bargaining and the importance of a strong union movement,” Perez said. “That is how we succeed.”

Local 11 represents cashiers, cooks, dishwashers and servers at LMU, along with 32,000 hospitality workers throughout Southern California and Arizona. LMU worker Angela Fisher revealed during the press conference that her previous wages weren’t enough for her to afford housing, but now she’s excited about the new contract and new possibilities for her future.

“I am homeless,” Fischer said, also thankful for the pending reduction in health care costs. “I’m thrilled. … Down the line, in the near future, I’ll be able to get something affordable for myself.”

Voter concerns about livable wages and an increase in union activism after years of national setbacks have made unions an influential player in the Democratic primary race so far.

“The workers of UNITE HERE get in the fight and they win. I’m here today because UNITE HERE has proven that when workers fight together, workers win,” Warren said. “Let us never forget, unions built America’s middle class and unions will rebuild America’s middle class.”

The PBS NewsHour and Politico debate begins at 5 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 19) on the Loyola Marymount University campus. Former Vice President Joe Biden will be at center stage, flanked to his left by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer, with Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and entrepreneur Andrew Yang to his right.