By Ken Stone
Updated at 12:05 p.m. Feb. 23, 2017
Sandy Naranjo recalls working so many late hours at the four-story United Labor Center in Mission Valley she felt as if she lived there.
Now she’s not allowed inside.
Fired in December from her job with the local grocery workers union, Naranjo, 30, has two lawsuits pending against her former employer — union chief Mickey Kasparian.
On Wednesday — while the powerful labor leader was closeted in the center’s fourth-floor AFT conference room at her former workplace overlooking Qualcomm Stadium — Naranjo joined 20 demonstrators outside calling for his resignation.
Kasparian was meeting with members of his San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council executive board and two representatives of the national AFL-CIO, said Brent Beltrán, leader of a 2-hour protest, citing a source in the “building trades.”
“This is my first time being here [at a Kasparian protest],” said Naranjo, who is collecting unemployment. “I’m happy that I’m here because it shows I’m not alone. It shows Isabel [Vasquez, whose own Kasparian suit alleges sex harassment] is not alone. It makes me feel pumped to stay strong.”
The AFL-CIO had been summoned to the building south of Interstate 8 thanks to a letter from the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, noting Kasparian’s legal and control issues and the failure of his rival labor council to fulfill its “chartered purpose.”
Kasparian, who denies the wrongful-termination and gender discrimination accusations of Naranjo as well as allegations by Vasquez and others, did not respond to a request for comment on the AFL-CIO meeting. Tom Lemmon of the building trades council, also said to be in the room, declined to comment.
But Naranjo may have given Kasparian cause for hope when she told Times of San Diego she hasn’t ruled out a settlement with the local UFCW and labor council president.
“In a lot of high-profile cases, there is an incentive to settle,” she said. “There’s a gag order, and this is a conversation my attorney Dan [Gilleon] and I will fully discuss. But for right now, that’s not been offered at all.”
For now, she said, “We just want to focus on justice” for herself and former UFCW Local 135 colleague Vasquez.
Beltrán of Barrio Logan and a core group of supporters of “Las Tres Hermanas” (including current UFCW employee Anabel Arauz) had gathered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday with the goal of entering the United Labor Center to lobby the labor council board.
But after a 50-yard walk from their staging area up a road, they were politely stopped from entering by Dean Okamura, the building’s property manager.
“You guys just need to stay out in this area,” Okamura said. “It is private property, but you can stay out here.”
So the group lined the entrance with posters and brought donuts and coffee to fuel their wait for people going in and out. No chants were vocalized. [An evening protest was planned at a larger labor council meeting.]
Debbie Principe of Jamul carried a “Welcome AFL-CIO” sign, though.
A 26-year grocery worker who retired four years ago from a nine-year membership and insurance clerking job at UFCW 135, Principe said Kasparian made “everybody [in the office] feel fearful of losing their jobs.”
Naranjo arrived later, and recalled her path to what she called her “dream job.”
She said she majored in political science, political economics and economics at Cal State San Bernardino, where some of her professors were involved in the labor movement.
That led to internships with labor groups and eventually being hired at the San Diego labor council when now-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher was the group’s secretary-treasurer.
“Everyone loved the work that I did at the labor council,” Naranjo said. “That’s why [Kasparian] hired me directly from the labor council to become the external field organizer for [UFCW].”
She recalled how the labor movement saved her family, starting with her construction-worker dad, one of the first Latinos to join his union in the 1960s.
“He was able to earn good wages, health care, and when my dad had to retire early because he had a stroke on the job, the union kicked in and gave him a pension,” Naranjo said.
Her dad died seven years ago, and now her mother is “surviving on his pension.”
“If he was never union, my mom would be homeless right now,” she said. “My family would be struggling even more.”
She said her husband, Andrew McKercher — assistant business manager at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 — was devastated by her firing. (Kasparian says she was properly let go for falsifying her time card.)
“He’s a labor leader himself,” Naranjo said of Andrew, “and this is not what the labor movement is about. We’re supposed to be exemplary.”
She said that considering Donald Trump is president of the United States, “where everybody’s under attack, we need to show that we stand for people. We stand for all.”
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