Backed by two dozen union workers, Mickey Kasparian introduced his breakaway San Diego Family Workers Council on Tuesday, insisting “this is not about ripping the labor movement apart.”
Kasparian — recently removed by the AFL-CIO as president of the powerful San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council — told a news conference that his new group had been in the works before three women leveled accusations against him.
“AFL-CIO recognized people [in the labor council] didn’t want to resolve” their differences, he said, not specifying what caused a “rift” in the group he led for 14 years.
“That’s why people end up getting divorced,” he said at UFCW Local 135 in Mission Valley, where he’s the longtime president of one of the region’s largest unions.
(Kasparian declined to address questions about sex harassment and hostile workplace allegations he’s facing, terming the issue “frivolous lawsuits” and a “sideshow.”)
Also vague was David Garcias, president of Service Employees International Union Local 221, standing alongside Kasparian.
“We’re transforming and creating a new worker organization that’s going to represent all [workers] and not be isolated to individual issues,” Garcias said.
Former labor council Secretary-Treasurer Dale Kelly Bankhead said “time and time again, we’ve run into a wall of egos, disruption and lack of cooperation.”
The new group will boast unions representing about 45 percent of the old labor council, or perhaps 75,000 workers. But nonunion community groups were expected to join as well, Bankhead said.
“We’ll be working to bring in other parties,” she said.
She also said the new group would not expect Democrats seeking labor support to pick between the groups.
“We’re not going to ask anybody to choose sides,” Bankhead said. “We’ll have really strong partnerships.”
(Times of San Diego was initially barred from the news conference, but Voice of San Diego Editor in Chief Scott Lewis prevailed upon Kasparian to allow its reporter inside.)
Jessica Hayes, leader of the San Diego County Democratic Party, told Times of San Diego on Monday night — after Voice of San Diego broke news of the group — that unions govern “specific to the best interests of the members they serve.”
“We are a political party and not a union,” she said, “but as always, Democrats support Labor and the working woman and man. We are a big tent and we welcome and will work with all unions and associations to get good Democrats elected to office and to get good policy passed that promotes project labor agreements, protects wages, benefits, retirement and in general supports the health and the well-being of our San Diego County families.”
But in a Facebook post, the political director of IBEW Local 569 ripped the new council.
“Don’t misuse collective resources, burn down the house, raid the coffers, try to co-opt supporters of working families with threats and lies, and then claim righteousness in creating a new organization that is actively seeking to harm and divide the labor movement,” said the director, Gretchen Newsom, among four dozen signatories of a February letter calling on the local party and labor council to put Kasparian on leave.
“United we stand; divided we fall,” she said.
Standing with Kasparian were leaders including Lisa Fair, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309 (“This great movement … really excited about it”) and Rich Hanson of the local laborers union (“Good things are coming our way.”)
Hanson and half the people arrayed in front of a Family Workers Council banner wore orange LiUNA T-shirts, standing for Laborers International Union of North America.
The SEIU’s Garcias said “it wasn’t a tough decision” to join Kasparian’s group. “This is going to be the new form of worker organization. The labor council doesn’t allow for that blending” of unions and nonunion groups.
Outside the building, about a dozen protesters led by Brent Beltrán of Barrio Logan held signs and a “shame on you” banner, decrying Kasparian.
“The AFL-CIO came down and fired him,” said Beltrán, who organizes recurring protests on behalf of the three accusers. “He basically took his ball and went home.”
How does the local Democratic Party dynamic change, with Kasparian out of the labor council?
“He’s possibly more isolated,” Beltrán said, “because now he’s around his own sycophants … that depend on him.”
With nobody inside his group to challenge him, Kasparian is going to “use the money from the new council any way he sees fit — whether it’s to help the labor movement or hinder it,” Beltrán said.
Anabel Arauz, fired by Kasparian in the wake of her filing suit against him for workplace demotions and punishment, asked how the new council will benefit his own UFCW members in negotiations.
Did UFCW members vote on leaving the labor council? she asked.
At his news conference (streamed live and posted on Facebook), Kasparian noted that unions have piecemeal left the labor council over the years, citing police, firefighters, municipal employees and plumbers unions.
But the latest exit is the first time a “coalition” of unions has left the labor council, he said.
“This is not meant to be a divisive entity,” Kasparian said.
As the 20-minute news conference ended, audience member Richard Trujillo yelled to gain attention: “Mickey, one second.”
Then Trujillo, a Chula Vistan who said he once was vice president of a San Jose transit union local, praised the UFCW for being “behind the AMTU every minute of every day.”
Then he shouted: “The reason the press, in polls, only registers 15 percent believable is because you ask the wrong questions! This [new council] — you’re not going to lose your individuality. You’re going to keep it.”
Applause followed, and a few “Si se puedes.”