U.S. Democratic debate to proceed after labor dispute settled

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. (Reuters) - Negotiators reached a tentative deal to end a labor dispute that threatened this week’s Democratic debate, allowing the event bringing together seven top presidential candidates to proceed, a service workers union and Democratic officials said on Tuesday.

Unite Here Local 11, which represents food workers at debate host Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said it would drop plans to picket the debate after reaching a three-year agreement with Sodexo , the company that employs them.

All seven of the Democratic participants had said they would not cross the picket line and had threatened to skip Thursday’s nationally televised debate among leading candidates competing for the nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first of the Democratic contenders to say she would not participate in the debate if the contract standoff continued, setting off a wave of similar promises from the rest of the field.

“It’s just the beginning,” Warren told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon in Inglewood, California, announcing the contract resolution. “When I am president, we will put more power back in the hands of the people and the people will get the wages, the benefits and the respect that you deserve.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez worked with the union and Sodexo, a global services company, to help resolve the dispute. Perez, who served as labor secretary under former Democratic President Barack Obama, described a frantic few days of trying to reach an agreement to allow the debate to move forward.

“Every single Democrat running for president believes in the importance of collective bargaining, believes in the importance of the labor movement, understand that when the labor movement succeeds, the middle class succeeds and grows,” Perez said at the news conference.

The union membership will vote later on Tuesday on ratifying the contract.

The union said it represents 150 cooks, dishwashers, cashiers and servers at the university who work for Sodexo. The new contract includes increases in compensation and job security, and a 50% drop in healthcare costs, it said.

Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney