Democratic presidential debate canceled at UCLA after labor dispute

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In response to a labor dispute in the UC system, the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, announced that it is no longer planning to hold the Dec. 19 Democratic presidential debate at UCLA.

The decision comes in the midst of an ongoing dispute between the UC system and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 3299, the union representing service workers and patient care technical workers at UC campuses and medical centers. The union alleged that the UC system is engaging in unfair labor practices surrounding outsourcing and intimidation, and plans to strike Nov. 13.

In April, AFSCME Local 3299 publicly called on speakers to boycott UC events. According to an AFSCME Local 3299 press release, the union reached out and asked six presidential candidates scheduled to attend the December debate at UCLA to honor the boycott before the DNC announced that it was changing venues.

“With regret, we have agreed to step aside as the site of the debate rather than become a potential distraction during this vitally important time in our country’s history,” said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an email.

Despite the longstanding nature of the dispute — more than two years — UCLA described in a statement that AFSCME Local 3299’s recent pushes as “renewed and unanticipated objections.”

This is not the first instance of high-profile speakers pulling out of engagements in response to AFSCME Local 3299’s call for a boycott. In May 2018, Kamala Harris withdrew as commencement speaker at UC Berkeley.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Doan called AFSCME’s demands “unreasonable” in an email in response to inquiries about the debate cancellation.

“The way to a deal is at the bargaining table, not on the picket lines, and should not come at the expense of patients, students, the University, and our communities,” Doan said in the email. “We will do everything we can to limit the strike’s negative impact.”

AFSCME Local 3299 filed six complaints against the UC system in October. Among these, the union alleged that the university broke its policies by outsourcing jobs to contractors, which AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse said are reportedly paid up to 53% less than those in the union.

In previous strikes, multiple Democratic candidates joined AFSCME Local 3299 in support. According to releases from the union, Bernie Sanders joined picketing strikers at UCLA in the March 20 strike, and Julián Castro joined strikers in San Francisco in May.

“We applaud the decision by the DNC to stand with University of California workers in their fight for fair treatment from California’s 3rd largest employer. And we are grateful to the candidates and other leaders who have stood with us in solidarity on our picket lines,” according to the AFSCME Local 3299 press release. “While a change of venue for this debate is no doubt inconvenient, it pales in comparison to the effect that the University’s lawless outsourcing practices are having on thousands of families and communities across California.”

Ben Klein is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.