By Ken Stone
Updated at 2:50 p.m. Feb. 6, 2017
Anabel Arauz is a 35-year-old single mother of three, including a 10-year-old son with a learning disability. Tuesday morning, the Chula Vistan flew to Utah for a 10-day work assignment.
She’s an organizer with the local United Food and Commercial Workers union, and is used to being out of town. But not in a place where it’s 8 degrees — “crazy cold” — and has to buy winter clothes.
Arauz says she’s being sent to a meat-packing plant in Logan, Utah, as punishment for speaking out against her boss, UFCW Local 135 President Mickey Kasparian.
She filed a complaint Jan. 7 with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging that she has been subject to discrimination, harassment and retaliation and was demoted for taking sides with Isabel Vasquez, whose own lawsuit accuses Kasparian of sex harassment.“The demotion was designed to punish Ms. Arauz and humiliate her, not only to send a message to other employees that they could face the same punishment if they did not not denounce Ms. Vasquez, but also to create a hostile environment for Ms. Arauz in which she could be constantly observed,” said her lawyer, Dan Gilleon, in the complaint.
Arauz didn’t know about the new assignment until Friday afternoon.
“I was told … our international [union] was requesting a bilingual female for this meat-packing plant that they’re organizing in Utah,” she told Times of San Diego. But she later learned the job didn’t involve “home-calling” and other traditional organizing chores. The plant hosts a union office, and Arauz expects to be doing “rep” work and handling grievances — which she hasn’t done before.
Having to leave her two sons (one is 15) with her parents and grandmother is a financial burden because her mom is working two jobs and has to take time off, she said. It’s also causing the younger son emotional stress.
Her 19-year-old daughter, Idaliz Loya, is a college freshman who posted a video on Facebook calling on Kasparian to resign. “Time to man up and go,” she said. “Mickey, I hope you’re sleeping well at night knowing you’re destroying families.”
Beyond the Utah aggravation, Arauz is angry with her own labor union — called FAIR for Federation of Agents and International Representatives, which she describes as an extension of UFCW. She hasn’t filed a formal grievance, she said, but has spoken to its president, Steven Marrs.
She said Marrs told her at a Jan. 12 union meeting: “You’re basically on the shit list, so they’re going to send you to the most cold weather [place] to basically teach you a lesson.”
On Wednesday, Marrs denied saying this. “I haven’t spoken to this member on this subject,” he said.
But contacted Tuesday in Roseville, Marrs said he couldn’t comment on what he called an “ongoing investigation” by his executive vice president of Arauz’s “concerns or issues.”
“It’s just not fair for me to make a comment until I have all the facts in front of me,” Marrs said in a phone interview.
Arauz says she’s been keeping her FAIR rep informed — but to no avail.
— David Alvarez (@AlvarezSD) January 28, 2017
“I let him know about the hostile work environment I’m going through. I CC’d him an email to [UFCW executive] Richard Barrera and Mickey Kasparian, so that he knows what’s going on at the office. And I get no response from him.”
She said she’s been told by the FAIR rep, based in Northern California, that “they haven’t violated a contract so there’s no reason for me to file a grievance.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Arauz said Monday before leaving for Utah, “because your union is supposed to protect your workers. You’re supposed to take your workers’ side and find something in that contract to protect your member.”
Arauz suspects the timing of the 830-mile trip to northern Utah is related to a Facebook post showing photos of a nonunion electrical crew working at the UFCW office in Mission Valley.
“I didn’t post the pictures,” she said. “But I did send some pictures of those workers to someone else [in the building trades] who would be interested in those photos, and they’re the ones that posted it” on a page supporting Kasparian’s accusers.
Neither Kasparian nor representatives of the 1.3 million-member UFCW international union responded to requests for comment.
But the following Monday, the political director of IBEW Local 569 told Times of San Diego that the union had seen the photos and received “multiple complaints” about the use of nonunion workers.
“We reached out to UFCW 135 leadership to remind them of our 300-plus union contractors,” said Gretchen Newsom, the political director.
She said UFCW 135 leadership had mistakenly thought that the work being done at their office — changing of light fixtures — was not under IBEW’s scope of services.
“UFCW 135 has informed us that, going forward, they will be contracting with one of our IBEW 569 contractors,” she said.
Last Wednesday, Arauz joined a protest of two dozen people picketing a meeting of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, where she had expected to be a delegate. She says she was told less than two hours before the meeting started that she couldn’t attend.
“[Kasparian] is just trying to get me away from San Diego because I spoke out on Wednesday,” she said. “And on Thursday, some nonunion photos surfaced…. At 5:10 p.m. you get this random request from international for a bilingual female in Utah. What a coincidence, right?”
She said of Kasparian, considered a local Democratic kingpin: “It’s just crazy. I honestly don’t have a word to describe how much power he has…The moment I filed a complaint and began to speak out, he’s continued to just mess with me and use his power as my boss to change my personal and my work life.”
On Jan. 30, the Democratic Woman’s Club of San Diego County waded into the issue, voting in favor of a letter of support of the women accusing Kasparian. The letter will be sent to the county Democratic Party for review, said Susan Peinado, the club’s incoming president.
“The women are truthful until they are proven not to be in a court of law,” Peinado said Wednesday. The membership vote on the letter, taken at its City Heights meeting, was unanimous but with two abstentions, she said.She said no woman exists who doesn’t have a story to tell about misogyny or abuse, so it’s important for her club to support the accusers.
Seth Combs of San Diego CityBeat, the left-leaning weekly, wrote in an editorial that Kasparian could “potentially be a genuine creep” and “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.”
Late Wednesday, a 614-word letter signed by nearly four dozen Democratic officials and activists was released calling for two labor groups and the state and county Democratic parties to investigate allegations against Kasparian (see below).
“Because of Mr. Kasparian’s standing in the progressive community, our ability to stand up against cultures of discrimination, bullying and harassment is compromised, unless we are able to resolutely acknowledge that we hold ourselves to the same standard that we demand from the nation’s president and his supporters,” said the letter.
On Monday, Jim Miller on San Diego Free Press posted a statement from American Federation of Teachers Local 1931 calling the accusations “deeply disturbing.”
The AFT said Naranjo, Vasquez and Arauz “deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect.”
“While Mr. Kasparian has done many good things for the local labor movement over the years and has the right to due process,” said the statement, “we believe the honorable thing for him to do, while this process unfolds, is to take a leave of absence from his position as Labor Council president until this matter has been resolved.”
Local 135 will pay Arauz’s Utah travel, rental car and hotel expenses, and even give her a food stipend, but not help buy warm clothes, Arauz said.
She’ll be working in a two-state UFCW region overseen by Local 711, whose president, Michael Gittings, has not responded to requests for comment.
Arauz is upset with the parent union, who she says is helping Kasparian — an international vice president — “by asking me to go out of the state.”
Despite becoming a pariah in the office — “they don’t talk to me” — she says she’s gotten word from some co-workers that they respect her for speaking out and “being brave.”
“I’m doing this for them as well,” said Arauz, a UFCW staffer for five years.
She says she won’t be driven from a job she values — even though “[they are] trying to make it to the extreme so where any sane person is not going to be able to put up with it, ya know?”
“I’m not going to quit,” Arauz said. “I’m the sole provider [for] my children. I just bought a home, and I’m fighting for the right things.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: