Democratic Party Leadership Moves Monthly Meeting to Avoid Protests
By Sara Kent
Six months ago news broke about Sandy Naranjo, a young mother, progressive activist, and passionate labor advocate filing a lawsuit against one of the most powerful men in San Diego.
Mickey Kasparian, President of United Foodservice and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 was named in the complaint, which included claims of gender discrimination and retaliation she experienced while working at the Union. Kasparian was then also President of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.
That litigation is ongoing.
A week later Isabel Vasquez filed a second lawsuit exposing shameful secrets she carried for nearly 15 years working under Kasparian. Isabel had retired six months prior, but after hearing Sandy’s story decided her continued silence was not an option.
That litigation is ongoing.
While on a planned holiday break, Anabel Arauz, who at the time still worked at the same Local, was contacted regarding the litigation. She indicated that she had known Isabel since she was 17, loved her like a second mother, and said, “if Isabel says it happened, it happened.”
Anabel went on to experience three months of workplace hardships following that conversation, eventually being fired, and filing yet another lawsuit.
It seems appropriate to set down a timeline for clarification and reflection on this unfortunate six month anniversary, given the many moving pieces, purposefully confusing narratives put forth by some involved, and events that have happened since.
Recent public misstatements necessitate prefacing this timeline with this statement from Dan Gilleon, the attorney for all three women:
“Kasparian is still trying to get the Judge to throw the cases out. His problem: the constitutional right to a jury trial. Kasparian keeps asking the Judge to dismiss the cases because he does not want to face a jury of his peers. I understand why he’s afraid. Despite what Kasparian has been saying to anyone who will listen, our cases are alive and well.“
December 15, 2016: Complaint filed by Sandy Naranjo, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation, disability retaliation, and wrongful termination.
December 19, 2016: Complaint filed by Isabel Vasquez, alleging approximately 13 years of quid pro quo sexual harassment.
December 28, 2016: Letter to AFL-CIO regarding then-Labor Council President Kasparian’s divisive actions at the Labor Council, including blaming gender discrimination and quid pro quo sexual harassment litigation against him on other member organizations.
January 4, 2017: Anabel returns from vacation and is confronted upon arrival about her boyfriend’s social media posts regarding the two lawsuits.
January 6, 2017: Anabel is demoted to “internal research organizer” (nonexistent position).
January 7, 2017:
- Department of Fair Employment and Housing Complaint was filed by Anabel Arauz, alleging functional demotion and retaliation for expressing loyalty to Vasquez as a potential character witness.
- Democratic Party Assembly Delegate (ADem) elections: Sandy Naranjo was the highest vote-getter in the 80th district despite attempts by others to organize against her.
- The first rally held supporting Sandy and Isabel outside the election location at International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers offices in Chula Vista.
January 25, 2017:
- Two hours prior to a Labor Council delegates meeting, Anabel Arauz was informed by UFCW officer Richard Barrera that she had been removed as a delegate.
- Former San Diego Council Member Donna Frye and Irene McCormack authored this letter to delegates of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and UFCW Local 135 membership.
January 30, 2017: A letter signed by San Diego Woman’s Democratic Club of San Diego County urged the San Diego County Democratic Party to remove Mickey Kasparian as a Party delegate.
January 31, 2017: In the context of a conversation between Sara Kent and San Diego Democratic Party Chair Jessica Hayes regarding the Woman’s Club letter, Hayes insisted that legal proceedings were the most appropriate avenue for the women’s complaints against Kasparian. She went on to say it would have been better for Bob Filner to remain in office while the litigation against him ran its course (despite several cases concluding the women were telling the truth). Specifically, she said: “better than Faulconer.”
February 1, 2017
- A letter from 46 San Diego Democrats and Progressives was sent to to the Executive Boards of UFCW Local 135, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, and the San Diego County Democratic Party requesting an independent investigation into the claims against Kasparian
- Anabel Arauz was sent to temporarily work in Utah to isolate and punish her.
- San Diego CityBeat called for Kasparian’s resignation.
February 2, 2017: AFT Local 1931 executive board voted to issue a Statement on Allegations against Mickey Kasparian.
February 3, 2017: A complaint was filed by Naranjo against UFCW’s internal union, the Federation of Agents and International Representatives (FAIR) for improper handling of a labor grievance.
February 8, 2017: An AFL-CIO investigation of Labor Council actions by Kasparian underway.
March 7, 2017: The San Diego Democratic Party Executive Board was advised by Chair Jessica Hayes against acting on the San Diego Woman’s Democratic Club Letter requesting Kasparian’s removal as a delegate.
March 9, 2017: A complaint was filed by Nohelia Ramos Campos claiming employee discrimination with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing against San Diego’s chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (receives funding from UFCW). Campos claims she was discriminated against as retaliation for posting comments supportive of the women with claims against him on her personal social media page and refusing to express support for Kasparian.
March 21, 2017:
- In the San Diego Democratic Party Central Committee: a motion for removal of Mickey Kasparian as a party delegate was voted down due to lacking Provisions in the Bylaws.
- Party Chair Jessica Hayes preemptively published a statement before Central Committee meeting regarding the inappropriateness of specific form of a request to the Party website; did not provide leadership via proactive discussion on possible remedies nor recommendations for Bylaws modifications.
March 24, 2017: Anabel Arauz was terminated from employment at UFCW Local 135.
April 12, 2017: Anabel Arauz filed litigation after receiving clearance to do so from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
April 19, 2017: UFCW Local 135 delegate Chris Lopez was placed under citizen’s arrest and ejected from quarterly delegates meeting for asking publicly about ongoing litigation against the Local and Mickey Kasparian; Kasparian called police to ensure he left the premises for asking too many questions.
April 24, 2017: The cancellation of April 26th meeting of the Labor Council, following months of AFL-CIO investigation.
May 8, 2017: Mickey Kasparian was removed as President of San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council by AFL-CIO; immediately announces formation of rival “San Diego Working Families Council.”
May 9, 2017: San Diego Democratic Party Chair released unsanctioned position statement via email to Central Committee members and the Party website welcoming new splinter labor council and endorsing it, saying, “… the new San Diego Working Families Council will be a powerhouse from Day One.”
May 22, 2017:
- Jim Miller recounted being contacted by SEIU 221 Executive Board member Melody Godinez, whose union joined UFCW 135 when it splintered from the Labor Council. She noted: “‘this abrupt decision without any real consultation with the membership is a disservice to our members. It’s more about egos and personal politics than County workers.’ Godinez also made the case that it was not internal strife inside the Council but the intense pressure to support Kasparian at any cost that is the real problem.”
- The South Bay Democratic Club passed a resolution in support of a united labor movement. This was a largely corrective action to Chair Jessica Hayes’s improper Party endorsement of the Labor split on May 9.
June 13, 2017: Although Hayes endorsed the split in labor on May 9 without engaging in any democratic process within the Party prior to taking a position, a month later at the San Diego Democratic Party South Area Caucus Meeting, she hypocritically introduced a proposed change to the County Party’s Policies and Procedures prohibiting the party from taking a position on any disputes with third parties (such as Labor). This was largely perceived as an attempt to preempt the resolution by the South Bay Democratic Club and avoid being held accountable for her improper statements endorsing the Working Families Council on May 9. Hayes’ effort to change Policies and Procedures was voted down by the South Area Caucus.
June 14, 2017: Party Chair Jessica Hayes announced a meeting location change for the July Central Committee meeting, stating: “It became too difficult to hold the meeting at the previous location. The new site does not allow protests on their premises.” This is in direct response to protests at recent Central Committee meetings, primarily by Democrats peacefully standing in solidarity with Sandy, Isabel, and Anabel, protesting the lack of party leadership to remove Mickey Kasparian as a delegate. Hayes seemed oblivious to the irony that under her leadership, the Democratic Party is simultaneously calling on people to peacefully protest Donald Trump and trying to suppress peaceful protests against Mickey Kasparian.
The question of how we continue to decry the treatment of one bad actor at the center of harmful, divisive actions contrary to our values without undermining San Diego’s broader labor movement is the challenge those of us who are labor allies, former and current union members, and concerned progressives are now facing.
Mickey Kasparian refused to accept the authority and determination of the AFL-CIO’s months-long investigation, which removed him from the position as President of the Labor Council, by forming a splinter council so he can continue to evade accountability. Despite this, the organizations which remain faithful members of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council have vowed not to turn their backs on union members whose leaders left the Labor Council should they need support during collective bargaining. Those labor unions that remain, remain committed to unity and progress.
This makes me hopeful that the future of this timeline may not be full of additional tales of workplace abuses and actions destructive to the labor movement due to Mickey Kasparian’s behavior.
After all, workers deserve better, and the progressive movement has to be safe for everyone – not a harbor for those who consistently abuse power.
Still, the actions of leaders such as Hayes just this week provoke more questions than answers for those of us who support the women who have bravely shared their first-hand accounts of workplace abuses.
As we stand for the rights and dignity of all workers, we can’t help but ask:
- How do we advocate for justice, especially when the Chair of the Democratic Party is unilaterally acting to silence protests and limit efforts within the Party to correct her missteps in such matters?
- How do we keep the focus on the individuals who have caused this strife, and not allow them to mischaracterize deserved criticisms of their unethical actions as somehow being an attack on Labor?
- How do we ensure that the progressive values so many of us share are consistently reflected in the actions, operations, and positions of our left-of-center institutions?
These are challenging questions for which you may have insights worth sharing.
For now, I offer these pointers:
- Keep working towards justice, even when it’s unpleasant, unpopular, or both. Perhaps, especially when it’s both.
- Continue to tell the truth from a place of love, compassion, and courage.
- Realize that we ARE our institutions. They can only reflect our values in their actions, operations, and positions, to the extent that we take ownership of them and participate in making them stronger, brighter, and more courageous.
Six months ago, I could not have imagined that I would have become such a vocal ally to women I scarcely knew or, for most of them, had never heard of before that time. Their stories changed me and many others, and their courage and strength helped us realize our own courage and strength. While the road towards justice is not an easy one to walk, it is always one worth traveling.
I hope this latest challenge makes us all better.
Sara Kent is an environmentalist, Democrat, activist, and perennial idealist.