An open letter to Jessica Hayes, (Chair, San Diego Democratic Party) and Dale Kelly Bankhead (Secretary-Treasurer for the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council), from Sara Kent.
Editor’s Note: This essay concerns several allegations filed against Mickey Kasparian, President of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, previously covered by SDFP here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Over the past two months, I have hoped for brave action from each of you. As women who hold positions of power in San Diego who should be stalwarts of fundamental Democratic ideals, instead of being proud of your leadership, I am gravely disappointed.
Not only for you, but for all of us.
To recap: in December, two women who are former employees of UFCW 135 filed lawsuits which included serious claims regarding Mickey Kasparian. The very nature of the first suit filed by Sandy Naranjo should have raised concerns among those professionally engaged with the labor movement in San Diego as well as members of the Democratic Party and its leadership. The purported ongoing working conditions under Kasparian’s control are abysmal and constitute abuses worthy of serious review.
Given his stature and formal leadership positions in these communities and his influence generally in local politics – which collectively represent the majority of engaged Democrats in San Diego – it is important to consider whether the values he lives out professionally reflect our community values, and whether he should maintain those high-profile positions while several women bear out the impacts of his alleged actions. (They are, indeed, living with the impacts daily.)
The interest in these claims against such a prominent public figure is warranted, both external to our community and within. To move forward as though these grave examples of abuse do not exist would be unethical – especially because, as is now known, retaliation against a third current UFCW 135 employee, Anabel Arauz appears to have been escalating for more than a month and continues today.
Last month Anabel was reassigned from her successful professional organizing duties to an internal desk job, then removed temporarily to work from Los Angeles, then removed from her role as a delegate to the Labor Council after five years just prior to a delegates meeting, and most recently temporarily relocated to Utah – away from her three children (two minors, one with a learning disability). She is a single parent, and by all optics she is being punished for being supportive of her prior coworkers.
Prior to December 2016, of these three women I knew only Sandy Naranjo, who I met approximately five years ago. Though we have not been close friends and have actually engaged on opposing sides of some local issues, I love her and I have known her to have an unwavering heart for and dedication to labor, which I deeply admire. I have marched the streets of San Diego with her on multiple occasions. She represents the young, vibrant future of the left, and it is grievous to realize her beloved career is now at stake. Sandy has a vision: that her former coworkers and others who later work for UFCW 135 will not be treated with short shrift. That their labor reps will be responsive. She hopes her former workplace culture can become more equitable; less hostile to the lifeblood of the organization. She is a warrior for justice who should be applauded, not castigated. Sandy deserves my support.
In early January, I also met Isabel Vasquez, who filed a second lawsuit filled with deeply visceral and highly credible claims. After Sandy’s abrupt termination from UFCW 135, she contacted Isabel. In Isabel’s retelling, her immediate reaction was: “Enough is enough.” She had quietly borne workplace abuses for 15 years, then retired last year. Isabel has no political benefit to gain from attaching her name, honorable reputation, and future to the very public, yet private matters she has bravely shared. In order to take this action, she had to tell her children what she had endured for the latter portion of her career. Isabel is a strong, phenomenal woman, and she deserves my support.
I relate to Anabel, first and foremost, as a single mother. We love our children. We have both worked hard at our professions while raising them and providing for them. My own daughters are nearing the end of high school. Though they are no longer young, they still lean on me daily (and throw plenty of playful and skeptical sideeye). Anabel is a formidable, bright woman who first met Isabel at age 17, and Isabel helped shape her career. Anabel has been extremely successful in ongoing campaigns at UFCW 135 – at least until she was unwilling to speak ill of Isabel following the filing of her litigation. Now Anabel is treated as a pariah among coworkers and has spent the last several days missing her children, who have been cared for by family members, while exiled in Utah at Mickey’s direction. Anabel deserves my support.
As for each of you, I would love, as a woman who is invested in and wants to help build successes on the left for all San Diegans, to support you. You each come with some feminist bona fides I would be proud to have accomplished.
You’ve built your positions of influence, to your credit, in a culture that has not been necessarily favorable to women. You have each sacrificed to do so.
Congratulations – and I do not say that lightly – but that old oppressive, silencing system MUST GO. We need to unlearn it and replace it with something better, which requires vision and leadership.
We cannot purport to have moral high ground on the left by refusing to change the systems you each bore significant personal costs to navigate.
You both deserved better when coming up through your careers and efforts to advance Democratic ideals. You can make it better for other women now. You can recognize that part of what got you to where you are is white privilege, and you can use it to right some of the injustices perpetrated against these three Latinas and others.
We cannot be a home for vibrant, newly energized activists who are now showing up, eager to volunteer. These newly activated folks will walk in the door only to take a look around and see vestiges of antiquated sexist, oppressive culture, and walk straight back out to find something that matches a more equitable vision they are ready, willing, and able to help build.
That’s why, in this post-Filner era, we need to do better than we did four or five years ago.
That’s why, in this Trump era, we need to model change for the rest of the country.
I envision my activism in rallying support of Sandy, Isabel, and Anabel as an opportunity to show Republican women how to stand up for and effect change in their own Party. But we cannot do that as successfully as we otherwise would if you are both clinging to the reins of your respective organizations, trying to keep things as they are because it’s what you know and have some modicum of control.
We cannot do that if you insist upon wasting your years of hard work and earned credibility to protect a man who has expressed no outward humility regarding the situation he has caused.
Jessica: we spoke last week. I called you, as Chair of the San Diego Democratic Party, with some skepticism but willingness to discuss options wherein you could uphold professionalism and ethical responsibility in light of this situation you did not cause. In the course of that conversation, not only did you accuse me of “grandstanding” because I think Sandy’s, Isabel’s and Anabel’s claims are indeed relevant to the Party, but you told me we would be better off had Bob Filner remained in his office as Mayor during the two and a half years it took some of the litigation against him to resolve.
I repeated it back to you – I was in shock and wanted to ensure I had heard you correctly: “You’re saying it would have been better for him to remain in office those two years…?” and you replied: “It would be better than Faulconer.”
I responded that we are fundamentally on different planes in our perspectives. The conversation did not progress much beyond this, other than my insistence that it remains prudent to consider creative solutions that fit this extreme situation, potentially including a vote to amend the Bylaws regarding temporary involuntary removal of those in formal positions representing the Party.
It has been more than a week since that conversation, yet I still marvel at it. Two+ more years of “Filner headlocks,” quid pro quo offers for such community members as Veteran women with PTSD requesting help from the City, likely additional harassment claims filed by City employees, and overall chaos. This internal destruction of the party and traumas to be carried by additional women would be better than Mayor Faulconer?
Mayor Faulconer won that race, in part, because Democrats were completely disillusioned with the Party that gave them Filner. Some expressed disgust that Democratic Party and Labor leaders refused to strongly condemn the harassment when the news came out and several highly credible women spoke up. Following this rightful anger and despondency, there was an abject lack of motivation among the masses to volunteer – let alone vote – in the special election.
I prayed for, and wrote about, and hoped for, and walked for David Alvarez. Compared to my reception at homes in every other race I have volunteered for before or since voter apathy was unparalleled. After she brought up her distrust of the Party that gave us Filner, one Democrat I visited at the time sadly told me she just didn’t think it mattered anymore. (To this day, I still think I convinced her to get out and vote the following week.)
If things are going to get better, doubling down on “due process” and implicitly saying these women should bear the consequences of the actions taken by their highly influential boss is not the way to achieve positive change.
Dale: I realize your email this week to Labor Council leadership was not meant for public dissemination, but because I was indirectly referenced (and because I assume you knew it would be made public), and because it was me who reached out to you and others regarding this situation last week, let’s discuss.
In your introduction, you indicate you were “deeply troubled” by the allegations but disgusted that media covered the court cases. As though that discredits them. Then you seemingly comfort yourself with the fact that the justice system is involved, as though silence throughout the next long months and possibly years of litigation absolves your professional and moral responsibility, or erases the reality of compounding retaliation against one of the three women on a near-weekly basis.
In this writing, you have attempted to establish yourself as a character witness for a pristine, unassailable Labor Council President Kasparian (who, as far as I can tell, has never been your employer for you to speak to that work environment as his direct employee. You should know that a privileged position as a colleague is different than an employment relationship.).
You criticize President Trump but demean women and their supporters who are brave enough to challenge misogyny and bullying.
You also present strawman arguments against anybody who could *POSSIBLY* have reason to oppose Mickey Kasparian. In your estimation, we all either have a hapless agenda, or we are dimwitted fools. (Side note: To say your opinion is that all who call for accountability have another agenda or are being manipulated means you think the women’s claims are false… …that you think they are lying.)
I am evidently somewhere among those you reference because I think it is prudent for the health of labor and the local Democratic Party to consider options for a temporary removal of Mr. Kasparian from such prominent positions.
Let’s talk about that.
Here I am with Sandy Naranjo and Anabel Arauz, following our presentation to the Democratic Woman’s Club of San Diego County last Monday, where members approved signing this letter to the San Diego Democratic Party requesting consideration of his provisional removal as a Party delegate.
Here is my interview with Courthouse News last week and another with the San Diego Union-Tribune, discussing another letter I sent on behalf of 46 signatories (including myself) to you, the Executive Boards of UFCW Local 135, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the San Diego County Democratic Party, and the California Democratic Party recently.
Here I am with Donna Frye, a dear friend, in August 2013, following that terrible summer of the outfall of one abusive man. You know who worked side-by-side with Bob Filner on behalf of working families and San Diego’s underserved without observing any hint of the behavior of which he was later accused? Donna Frye. But when she heard several firsthand accounts of Filner’s abuses, she took action.
In case you (somehow) missed it, here is Donna’s Jan. 2017 letter, co-authored with Irene McCormack, addressed to members of UFCW Local 135 and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.
Of all these examples of responsible sharing of information and urging action, which elements do you perceive as “mudslinging?” Because I see a lot of good, engaged San Diegans suggesting solutions to a divisive problem and asking leaders such as yourself to address substance, not rhetoric.
Of the “miserable” group of people you aim to discredit in your letter to labor leadership in San Diego: Which am I? Because I’m not labor. My actions are earnest, as are those of many co-signers I have spoken with. I am simply a Democrat who has a tendency to take serious allegations made by women seriously when several corroborating accounts are shared.
These women are risking a great deal. They deserve dignity and credence while claims are carefully considered, and the response of the accused should also be noted. Is he thoughtful? Self-reflective? Or is his reaction caustic, replete with attempts to silence the claims and any who repeat them?
I stood loyal to Mayor Filner until I recognized his sexually motivated abuses of power and how the unholy drives of one man could undo the left in San Diego. I was in a fairly unique position to understand some of the extent of this problem before several firsthand accounts were made public.
Now when I recognize megalomania and sexual deviancy in a powerful individual via several firsthand accounts – especially from women – I do not rush to silence nor discredit these women nor provide political cover for the man they accuse. I am quiet, or I seek opportunities to listen to them, or I give them my support for their bravery.
I see how you are each in a tough position. But in your recent conversations, Jessica, and your email, Dale, it seems you are both willing to punish the bullied kids on the playground who dared swing back, and you’re telling witnesses to hold their tongues. You’re telling other labor leaders to forget their own stories of Mickey’s retaliation. You’re presenting a hallowed version of Mickey as surreal as Ivanka Trump’s version of her father in her Republican National Convention speech.
You are telling other labor and Dem leaders that abuses of power toward their own staff that are egregious enough to elicit several rapid-succession legal proceedings will not be frowned upon by the Labor Council.
You are praising due process by the Courts while circumventing any temporary extrajudicial action that might be prudent given the volume and substance of the claims… by pushing your own agendas in an extrajudicial fashion.
So… what is next? If Mickey’s own purported actions are diminishing the Dem Party’s and Labor’s strength, unity and efficacy, what will you do?
At what point will you concede that the problem does not lie with those brave enough to stake their names, reputations, and professions on telling their truths about one of San Diego’s most powerful men, nor with those who lend their voices in support, but perhaps with the man himself? What will you do then? Is it worth discussing?
The purpose of your actions of late appear to be equal parts: 1) siding with Mickey by praising him and insulting anybody who does not support him, and 2) making excuses for your lack of leadership. You appear to implicitly endorse a culture in which women in the workplace should not speak up if their boss is too powerful.
You have chosen a side.
Doing nothing is not an option for people of good conscience.
Aggressively acting to silence those on the side of justice is… something else entirely.
I hope you make better choices soon. Not for me, but for the future viability of the Party, and so that our local Movement represents something worthy of emulation.
Sara Kent is an environmentalist, Democrat, activist, and perennial idealist.