Councilman Alvarez: “I am disgusted by the allegations” About Sexual Harassment by Labor Leader

by on January 9, 2017 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, Labor, Politics, San Diego, Women's Rights

sexual harassmentRespected Latinas Step Forward with Shocking Claims Against UFCW President Mickey Kasparian

By Brent E. Beltran /San Diego Free Press

On December 17, 2016 NBC 7 San Diego broke the news that former UFCW Local 135 organizer Sandy Naranjo had filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against UFCW President Mickey Kasparian.

A few days later on December 21 NBC 7 San Diego came out with another story on Kasparian. This time it was regarding allegations of sexual harassment filed by former employee Isabel Vasquez. Vasquez’s complaint was full of lurid details.

Naranjo is suing Kasparian and UFCW Local 135 for Gender Discrimination; Retaliation for Political Affiliation; Retaliation for Intent to Pursue Worker’s Compensation; Physical Disability Discrimination; Failure to Prevent Physical Disability and Gender Discrimination; and Wrongful Termination In Violation of Public Policy.

In her complaint Naranjo also accuses Kasparian of using degrading and derogatory comments in reference to some of San Diego’s leading female politicians and labor leaders but not towards their male colleagues.

The complaint states that Kasparian frequently used the word bitch in reference to 80th District Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Escondido City Councilmember Olga Diaz, and Unite Here! President Brigette Browning.

He also openly referred to San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Francine Busby as “stupid” and a “dumbass.” And would tell his staff that State Senator Connie Leyva’s only achievements were her “tits.”

Classy guy that Kasparian!

But that’s not all!

The sexual harassment complaint filed by Isabel Vasquez is worse. Vasquez is suing Kasparian for Sexual Harassment (Quid Pro Quo); Sexual Harassment (Hostile Environment); Failure to Prevent Sexual Harassment; and Constructive Discharge In Violation Of Public Policy.

From the complaint:

“Vasquez became an employee of Local 135 in April 2001, but was forced to retire due to sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Kasparian that began almost immediately after she was hired. The sexual abuse committed by Kasparian included occasional demands for oral sex in his office at Local 135, sexual intercourse in hotels paid for by Local 135, and similar sexual acts at Local 135 events (e.g., in his car outside the event). This abuse was sporadic. Sometimes the abuse would occur upwards of three or four times per year. At other times, Kasparian would not call her into his office, or somewhere else, for a year or two. However, his sexual interest would always return, and he would call her on the phone, demand she come to his office, and when she arrived, she knew she might be required to submit to his sexual demands. After each act of sexual relations, Kasparian would summarily dismiss Vasquez and tell her to get back to work. He would even comment that she must have low self-esteem. This pattern abuse continued such that each day Vasquez came to work, her workday would be filled with constant fear and anxiety that today would be the day she would be called into his office for oral sex. At the end of the day, Vasquez could not find relief, even if she had not been called into his office, because she knew the next day might be different. Vasquez worked each day, every hour, with this fear and anxiety hanging over her, until she decided she could not take it anymore and retired early in July 2016.”

Vasquez, in her complaint, goes on to state that “[o]ne time, a co-worker walked into Kasparian’s office and saw him quickly run into an adjacent space, leaving Vasquez on her knees to face the co-worker in humiliation. Despite this glaring act of harassment in the workplace, Local 135 did nothing to investigate Kasparian, much less take actions to stop the abuse and protect Vasquez.”

In Andy Keats’ story at Voice of San Diego Vasquez says that she “just went into another space in my mind when it would happen. He fired every woman around me. Every single woman in that office is petrified. I’m one example of the manipulation. No one else can speak up because they’re so afraid.”

In the same article she said, “He would pick off women in our office who were my dear friends to this day and he would try to ruin their lives,” she said. “I wanted to come forward but I was so scared. For that I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself.”

It takes a tremendous amount of bravery for Sandra and Isabel to come forward and accuse the most powerful labor leader in San Diego of allegations such as these. They knew they would be ostracized and attacked by people in labor loyal to Kasparian. And they have been.

Unfortunately, not many in San Diego have come forward publicly to show their support. An exception is writer Shawn VanDiver in his op-ed at Voice of San Diego where he wrote:

“To those Democrats who wrap themselves in the mantle of women’s rights, yet publicly support the accused: Many of you jumped all over the Filner debacle. Many of you claim to stand up for women and against inequality. Well, where are you? I challenge you to read the lawsuits before you decide where you stand. It’s absolutely possible to simultaneously stand with these women and support working families. It’s also possible to not express solidarity with Kasparian until more facts come out.”

San Diegans came out in droves to condemn disgraced former mayor Bob Filner. Why the silence in regards to these accusations? Are people scared of Kasparian? Do they not care that two Latinas were possibly discriminated against? One sexually?

I reached out to almost all of the elected Democrats in San Diego to get a comment on the allegations. I’ll write about their responses, or lack of them, by them and the executive committee members of the San Diego County Democratic Party in a future column.

District 8 Councilman David Alvarez is so far the only elected to respond to my request. His district is made up primarily of Latinas and Latinos. Alvarez has always stood for what is right for the community that he serves. This time is no exception.

Councilman Alvarez stated:

“I am disgusted by the allegations that Mickey Kasparian harassed women and abused his power. Harassment and mistreatment of women is wrong. I will always use my voice to stand up against harassment, no matter who or how powerful the harasser might be.”

The leading progressive elected leader in San Diego has now come out strong in support of Sandy Naranjo and Isabel Vasquez. Will you stand alongside them too as they seek justice?

If you want to visibly show your support for Sandy Naranjo you can do so this Saturday from 3-5pm at the ADEM 80th election at Machinists Hall at 590 Park Way in Chula Vista. Community members will organize an informational picket with We Stand with Sandy signs and handouts. For more information visit the We Stand With Sandy Informational Picket event on Facebook.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar RB January 9, 2017 at 10:43 am

This should be handled in the courts.
But if the Dems want to attack each other, we should step back and let them go at it.

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avatar Lori Saldana January 9, 2017 at 7:49 pm

I posted a slightly modified version of this response to another article on this topic today:

Every labor office in San Diego needs to begin (or do a better job) teaching their members how to treat one another with respect, and protect their rights to safety within their organization. They need to protect their right to a safe work environment, and make sure no one is being harassed, sexually abused or discriminated against for any reason.

Every member and employee also need to know it’s important to report such behavior if it happens to someone else.

And if this is already being done- good. And- let’s strive to do better.

As a current union member who has had more jobs in my career working as a union member than not- I’ve definitely benefitted from being represented by a union, and working under a contract that ensures I receive equal pay, good benefits and many other protections that most workers lack.

However- even as a union member I’ve seen and experienced my share of discrimination, racism, and sexism within many of the organizations that represented me. And too often, it was considered “par for the course.”

No one should ignore these claims. Let’s see if local unions use this situation as a reason to add a new “orientation” topic for every member: if they see or experience racism, sexism, sexual harassment- or any other form of discrimination- they should be taught and encouraged to speak up immediately.

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