United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 president Mickey Kasparian is, once again, in the news. In recent years, prior to becoming embroiled in scandal, Kasparian presented himself as a progressive leader in local politics.
That was before multiple women from the local filed (and subsequently settled) lawsuits against him. That was before he was ‘I Quit/You’re Fired’ as president of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. That was before he operated in sync with the ultra-reactionary Lincoln Club to oppose Democrat Nathan Fletcher as a candidate for County Supervisor. That was before he jumped into bed with the National City reactionary mayor’s attempt to derail the candidacy of a progressive Latina.
And that was before the latest scandal triggered by accusations that Kasparian was seeking to avoid having to face his membership in a re-election campaign in the wake of allegations about nearly $700,000 in union funds being used to settle a gender-based lawsuit filed by a woman with another union.
Phew. Doesn’t sound very progressive, does it?
On Monday, he fired Todd Walters, formerly vice president and grievance director of the Local. Although Walters says there was no reason given for the 9:15am dismissal, his open opposition to a now-failed merger with the Inland Empire Local for the UFCW, was the likely reason.
A scheduled vote was called off when Local 1167’s president suddenly resigned for health reasons. Members of Local 135 had expressed concerns about notice of the vote being downplayed and the limited timeframe for ballots to be cast.
Retired UFCW Vice President Terry Hunt, who worked as a meat cutter for 28 years, was one of the more vocal opponents of the proposed merger, sending a message via Facebook to members:
…I have worked with diverse personalities at all levels my whole life. But I have never experienced a more non union environment than I experienced at Local 135. It was a total dictatorship, which if you did not agree with the president, you were threatened and retaliated against.
Kasparian is the type of person that gives unions a bad name. Those who don’t know him fall for his con man tactics. He has misled our members by lying to them about political candidates and their positions for his own political power and gains forgetting who pays his salary.
I have countless friends and coworkers in our industry. People are now aware of the atrocities he has performed and Kasparian is afraid of a fair election. Therefore he is trying to quickly pass a phony merger that will guarantee him a salary of over 600,000 dollars for the next three years…
Had the merger gone through, Kasparian would have been allowed to stay in power for another three-year term.
“You join the union to be protected from a bully, so when the president of your union is a bully and he’s the monster, it is frustrating,” said member Jessica Lopez.
Kasparian released a statement that reads:
“Most of the people there have personal agendas and are not even members of our union. I, along with my dedicated staff will continue to focus in on what’s really important…protecting and improving the lives of UFCW Local 135 members and their families.”
Todd Walters, a Local 135 member for 13 years and executive board member for the last two years, posted this account on Facebook:
Local 135 Members-
This morning Mickey terminated me. He gave me no reason.
To me, it is clear: he terminated me due to my speaking out about the merger vote, so that you would know more about what was going in your Union.
You, the members, won a huge battle by stopping the merger vote. But now Mickey is afraid that more of you will keep asking questions and become more involved in our Union going forward. It is not a surprise that Mickey did what he did today, he is desperate to keep the members in the dark, because he knows that it is the only way he can keep his power. What happened to many others and now me, is the result of standing up for what is right.
A petition was launched today demanding that Mickey give you- the members- a fair election and let you-the members- decide who will best lead Local 135. Please sign the petition and tell your fellow members to do the same. Tonight at 5:30pm we will be gathering at the Local 135 office (2001 Camino Del Rio S., San Diego) and rallying to show support for this petition. I will also be there to answer any questions that you have
Brian Kelley, Local 153’s comptroller, quit on Monday, and while he’s yet to make any public pronouncements, it’s safe to assume the two events are related.
The protest in front of the union’s Mission Valley office on Monday evening gave Walters the opportunity to tell his side of the story, and it wasn’t pretty.
He told the crowd Melody Godinez’s settlement of a gender violence lawsuit against the union and President Kasparian was paid for with union dues, not insurance, as was claimed in the past.
The union president came to Walter’s office on February 18, according to this account, trying to sell the settlement as a means of saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit there was no guarantee of winning.
When the Local 135 vp asked why the offer to settle wasn’t (as had happened with previous legal actions) coming via their attorneys, Kasparian became angry, storming out and slamming doors throughout the building.
Walters claimed other executive board members, who were contacted by phone to approve the settlement, later told him they did not fully understand what they were being asked to approve.
From the Times of San Diego:
Godinez alleged (and Kasparian has denied) a series of six sexual assaults between May 2014 and early 2016.
Her December 2017 lawsuit, settled Feb. 20, included an accusation that Kasparian tried to arrange a three-woman sex encounter in an “opulent” suite at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
Walters said Monday that Kasparian is “stretching it” when he says day-to-day legal costs account for a $670,255 gap between legal expenses paid and reimbursed via insurance.
The union president responded to the Times story in an email, claiming “If I was you I would pull this. While I’m restricted by a confidentially (sic) agreement. It is a blatant lie!!!!”
Let’s see… all the women who filed lawsuits against Mickey Kasparian were called liars. A crowd of mostly union members protesting were called outsiders. A report based on documents filed with the Department of Labor and corroborated by a (now-fired) union vp is a lie.
I suppose it’s possible that the comptroller who quit suddenly on Monday learned about an opportunity with President Trump’s foreign policy team.
But I doubt it.
Here’s the text of the petition being circulated to Local 135 members:
We the members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 135 are demanding our right to choose our leadership and therefore demanding the process of Union Officers Election in accordance to the UFCW Bylaws and Constitution Article XII.
We need to take back our union. Right now unions and the labor movement are under attack. Our members are going into contract negotiations and we need a strong union, the support of other unions and community members to win these fights.
Michael “Mickey” Kasparian has been allowed to abuse his power and misuse union funds for too long. Within the last year Mickey Kasparian settled four lawsuits against him: gender discrimination, wrongful termination, quid pro quo sexual harassment and gender violence. Union members were handed the bill, lawyer fees and settlements were paid using our union funds.
Since these lawsuits emerged we have lost the support of other unions and of community members. Mickey’s wrongful behavior resulted in his being removed from the Central Labor Council by the President of the AFL-CIO, at a time when we need labor’s allies united the most.
Now is the time to come together and solidify our support with our allies, such as labor, community organizations, academia and faith-based groups. We are stronger when we are all united!
Thank you for your support!
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