Photo by Joshua Emerson Smith
It can be a truly heartbreaking experience to learn that someone who has otherwise fought for workers’ rights and progressive values could potentially be a genuine creep. Most readers will remember the sinking feeling when it was revealed that former mayor Bob Filner had a sordid history of sexual harassment. We didn’t want to believe it, but as time went on and more accusers stepped forward, it became abundantly clear that Filner’s repeated denials could no longer save him.
While most San Diegans were understandably distracted by Trump’s tumultuous first week in office, there were disturbing developments in the case of Mickey Kasparian, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, a labor union that represents 12,500 workers including grocery and drug store employees. For those unfamiliar with the ongoing saga, Kasparian is legally accused of quid pro quo sexual harassment, gender discrimination, physical disability discrimination and wrongful termination of a former employee. He’s also had a formal complaint filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing accusing him of discrimination, harassment and wrongful demotion.
Some accusations that came to light in the lawsuits are truly disturbing. One of the plaintiffs, Isabel Vasquez, has accused Kasparian of demanding sexual acts in his office and in hotel rooms paid for with union funds. Another complaint, filed by Sandy Naranjo, accuses Kasparian of firing her for skipping work to supposedly conspire against his political agenda when she says she was at a medical appointment to deal with a work-related injury. Last week, a UFCW Local 135 employee (Anabel Arauz) filed a complaint that she was wrongfully demoted for supporting her former colleague’s accusations. This is in addition to a number of other informal accounts of Kasparian being verbally abusive and discriminatory in the office.
Things came to a head last Wednesday (Jan. 25) when Arauz, along with former city councilmember Donna Frye and Filner victim Irene McCormack, showed up to a labor council delegate meeting to show support for the women accusing Kasparian and to call for his resignation. CityBeat was there and spoke to all three women as they protested outside the union hall (they were not allowed inside, and Frye and McCormack were subsequently kicked off the premises).
“What is he hiding? Why doesn’t he want the rest of the unions to know that a current employee filed this complaint?” asked Arauz after she was taken off the delegates list and not allowed to attend the meeting. “I know I’m not doing it for attention. I’m not doing it for anything else, but I’m standing up for the right thing because enough is enough. He can’t silence us anymore. He will probably try to fire me for being out here, but at this point, honestly, I’ll get fired for doing the right thing.”
This note isn’t meant to demonize or pile onto what has already become a hot topic, but it’s become increasingly clear that Kasparian needs to step down from his role as president. It’s our opinion that, with all the litigation and the increasing amount of complaints that seem to now pop up daily, there is simply no way that Kasparian will be able to continue to serve effectively in his current role.
While most media outlets probably don’t consider this story to be on the same scale as the Filner debacle, the Kasparian accusers should be taken just as seriously.
Positions of power, be they in the mayor’s office or a union hall, should never be abused.
At the time this issue when to print, there were murmurs of a letter circulating among prominent democrats and labor activists requesting an independent investigation of Kasparian. At this point, the momentum is with the accusers, and the sooner Kasparian realizes this, the less heartbreaking it will be for everyone.
“People need to speak up,” Frye said at last week’s meeting. “They have to speak up when they see something wrong, when they see people being abused and when they see gross abuse of power, which is what we are witnessing right now.”