You wouldn’t know from reading the newspapers, but there were elections in California over the weekend. And, although the results aren’t finalized yet, it’s obvious something significant is going on in the state’s Democratic Party.
Although these changes (in the short term) amount to little more than a sea of new faces at the Dems state party convention, the significance of record turnouts, competing slates of candidates, and the openly stated desire for progressive ideals all should give us optimism for a new era in politics in the Golden State.
Locally, controversies arose in Oceanside and Chula Vista. The North County event seems to have been procedural; the South County occurrence reflects a deep division among organized labor groups threatening the unity Democrats will need in opposing the actions of the incoming administration.
A Massive Turnout
Not long ago, contests for California Assembly District Delegates were snoozefests. Some areas had difficulty getting enough people to sign up to fill the seats (7 men + 7 women, plus a representative to the executive board).
Turnout in most of the 80 assembly districts in the post-holiday elections tended to be in the dozens and often less than representative of party voters in general. Where there were competing candidates, platforms were expressed via slogans urging people to “Vote for the Experienced Insiders Slate!”
And the Insiders usually carried the day. The (typically) older party stalwarts and a smattering of union leaders high-fived each other and went home.
Delegates, among other things, elect Party officers, promote the California Democratic Party agenda, endorse candidates for statewide, legislative and congressional office, and vote to endorse resolutions and ballot measures as representatives of the districts.
Things were different this weekend.
Statewide, it appears that slates organized by Bernie Sanders supporters working with the National Nurses Union are on track to have won nearly 600 of the 1,100 seats up for grabs, along with 40-50 of the 80 total executive board seats.
The California Democratic party will now be under the influence of those who have advocated for a boldly progressive and populist foil to the Republicans.
I’ll have a breakdown of local races later in the week, once the results are verified. I dropped by the voting location for the 78th Assembly District on Sunday (and voted). As best as I can tell from looking at the preliminary results, nearly seven hundred people cast ballots. I remember last time out (2015) organizers were thrilled at about 300 people showing up.
The progressive slate had vans bringing supporters to the Musician’s Union locale, which was an especially good thing, considering the lack of parking in the area.
The San Diego Labor-Council, the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council and the San Diego Democrats for Equality put together a slate for contests in local assembly districts. It was, according to their supporters, designed to be a progressive, diverse, worker justice slate. It was well-supported by an aggressive social media campaign and lots of on-site advocates.
The crowd I saw was considerably younger and more diverse than in the past. The PA system used for the one-minute speeches by candidates could not compete with the cheek-to-jowl jostling and murmuring of humans trying to navigate the sign-in and voting process. The party shushers fought a losing battle as more and more people entered the building.
Elsewhere, there were controversies associated with the voting in two local assembly districts, reflective of political and ideological struggles going on within the Democratic Party.
Oceanside Ballots Take a Walk
In the 76th Assembly District, there were cries of “foul” on Saturday.
Hundreds of people arrived to vote and the location was woefully understaffed. Chaos ensued as the two people supposedly registering attendees were supplemented with volunteers who were then ordered to stop what they were doing.
Accounts on Facebook by attendees allege an attempt was made to enforce a $5 poll fee, unless willing to attest to hardship under oath with the threat of criminal prosecution. This was dropped following complaints.
Ballots were carried out of the Oceanside public library with a police escort after convenor Richard Duquette announced that no results of the ballot counting would be released until Monday. The convenor said that the ballots would be taken to his office on Sunday, where tallies would be made, and unofficial results would be given Monday.
Participants in the election loudly objected, saying party rules require publicly observed counting. An attempt to use the Oceanside police to stop videotaping the tallying was thwarted when the officers refused to cooperate with that request.
Duquette later said he was following orders from the State party.
Volunteer Ruben Major has officially complained to the State Democratic Party and posted details of his experience on Facebook.
A Protest in Chula Vista
The shitstorm over allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment by United Foodservice and Commercial Worker’s President Mickey Kasparian manifested itself via a demonstration at the 80th Assembly District voting site.
Sandy 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.
A sexual harassment complaint filed by Isabel Vasquez is even more troubling. She’s 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. (For a more complete overview of the allegations, see Brent Beltran’s story.)
On Saturday, a third complaint was filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by UFCW employee Anabel Arauz.
Supporters of Sandy Naranjo and Isabel Vasquez stood outside the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers offices in Chula Vista hold signs expressing support for the women and anger directed at Kasparian. Naranjo was on the ballot and received the most votes of any candidate.
The charges against Kasparian, who is also president of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, reflect several years of infighting and personal conflict among organized labor in the region.
It’s important to understand that the political resolution of this matter (as opposed to the legal) is ultimately an internal matter for organized labor. That said, some of the details of these divisions have been revealed in the press and deserve further analysis.
Tip of the Iceburg
There are no clear “good guys” in this battle from a progressive point of view, as various factions have supported (or declined to support) policies and candidates on both sides of the issues in recent times. Who is “progressive” is a fluid concept, depending on circumstances and personalities, a point often missed by conventional reporters, and used as a bludgeon by the unions when convenient.
The event triggering this latest split was a City Council vote on an operating agreement between the city and the Civic San Diego redevelopment agency.
Here’s Andy Keatts in Voice of San Diego:
Kasparian supported the plan, which he thought had won a key concession for grocery workers. The Building Trades, IBEW and Alvarez opposed the deal, arguing it didn’t represent enough of a victory for unions and progressive causes. In her lawsuit, Naranjo says the concession Kasparian won was “illusory.” In an interview, she said he was trying to claim a victory even though it hadn’t achieved anything.
Naranjo’s husband, Andrew McKercher, works for IBEW. According to the lawsuit, Kasparian became paranoid that Naranjo wasn’t in the office while the fight over the Civic San Diego was going on because he believed she was working with Alvarez and IBEW to undermine him.
The following Monday, he suspended her pending an investigation. On Dec. 9, Kasparian fired her.
In an interview, Kasparian said Naranjo was fired for cause. He said she had falsified her timecard, her mileage and her activity log, then destroyed union property to cover it all up.
Given Kasparian’s role–along with Mayor Faulconer and local Republicans– in the backroom negotiations to install Myrtle Cole as President of the City Council, the sense of dismay among progressives is palpable. Her choices for committee appointments, especially Public Services and Livable Neighborhood (PS&L), leave little doubt in many activists minds that “troublesome” social and economic issues affecting the not wealthy neighborhood stand little to no chance of being heard by the Council.
In a larger sense, the practical effect of Republican Chris Cate chairing a committee overseeing law enforcement and social issues means using the local legislative and hearing process as a vehicle for opposing the initiatives of the incoming Trump administration is closed off.
Responses to the Harassment Allegations
Various unions are now maneuvering to encourage Kasparian to step aside from his position at the Labor Council.
When I reached San Diego Free Press columnist Jim Miller, a VP of AFT Local 1931 during the holidays he explained that while his union office was closed at present and most key figures off for the semester break without a formal meeting until later in January, he did offer this personal response:
These are disturbing charges and I believe that Sandy Naranjo and Isabel Vasquez should be taken seriously and treated with respect. While Mr. Kasparian has a right to due process, I believe the honorable thing for him to do while that process unfolds is to step down from his position with the labor council and let these matters be resolved in court. As the labor movement faces existential threats in the near future, our focus should be on the fate of working people as a whole, not the controversy surrounding one leader.
The San Diego Building Trades Unions have appealed directly to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka via a letter dated December 28th. The group charges Kasparian and the Labor Council with failing to live up to its chartered purpose, namely to provide aid, cooperation, and assistance to affiliated local unions.
Eight bullet points, ranging from the media reports on the sexual harassment allegations to cooperation with anti-union groups to the detriment of the Trades Unions, detail their unhappiness with the Labor Council.
City Councilman David Alvarez, who’s gone from hero to zero in Kasparian’s mind in recent months, issued a statement calling saying:
“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.”
A War of Letters
The Labor Council has responded to the charges of sexual harassment through a series of letters of their own, one of which was published in Voice of San Diego, written by Rosalyn Hackworth, recently retired as Secretary-Treasurer of the UFCW.
If you were to read some of what has been said and didn’t know any better, you would think the local union was Sodom and Gomorrah, and Kasparian was some type of Svengali and that the staff were mentally beaten down to the point of hopelessness. This couldn’t be any further than the truth.
Dale Kelly Bankhead, currently serving as Secretary-Treasurer for the Labor Council, also penned a letter defending Kasparian:
Let me start by saying that I have a lifelong commitment to gender equality and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. I have also always said, “Believe the women.” So anyone who wanted to drive a wedge between me and Mickey could not have chosen a more powerful weapon.
But this situation is unique. I know enough about the facts of this situation, and of Mickey’s character, to be unwilling to support the efforts by some to force Mickey to step down as President of the Labor Council. These allegations come in the context of a heated internal power play at the Labor Council that you all are far too familiar with. They are also completely inconsistent with the person I know Mickey to be – and I spend a great deal of time working one-on-one with him. Given my sensitivity to gender issues, I surely would have seen some evidence of sexist behavior by Mickey. I never have.
I also know, as do you, that the local San Diego media are no friend of the progressive community and that they lack the professionalism to present a balanced reporting of the facts.
So here’s the deal. In recent years organized labor has been a significant supporter of progressive activism. The impact of their collective membership at election time and financial support for various causes and candidates can not be understated.
Unfortunately, as the nation faces a fundamental threat to the rights of just about everybody below the 1% (and the very concept of democracy), our local labor organizations are engaged in a big-time squabble.
Kasparian has adopted a ‘my way or the highway mentality,’ not only with regard to the charges of his personal conduct but with the advocacy of the local council. It’s been made very clear to both union and non-union activists in San Diego that failure to follow his lead will have political and financial consequences. People are afraid to speak out.
Aside from personally and politically supporting the women at the heart of this matter, there is little outsiders can (or should) do. The rhetoric by some advocating a scorched earth response will, in the end, make no difference.
I for one, don’t want to be arguing the fine points of progressivism while Trump’s flying monkeys are going after the humans not lucky enough to be white and wealthy.
Let’s focus on what we can do, for now. And also remember the harassment and discrimination charges haven’t been litigated. The last I checked, the rule was innocent until proven guilty.
This is an excerpt from Doug’s column at San Diego Free Press, our associates.