Updated at 9:20 a.m. Nov. 10, 2017
A lawyer for San Diego labor leader Mickey Kasparian is threatening legal action against a longtime member of his own union — a Vons produce worker named Christopher “Chris” Lopez.
He sent email regarding Kasparian to about 40 United Food and Commercial Workers officials, including international president Anthony “Marc” Perrone.
Hours after Lopez pushed “send” on notes calling for an internal union investigation and audit of Kasparian, attorney Michael Feinberg of Los Angeles-based Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers firm wrote the Chula Vistan, accusing him of “e-mailing false and defamatory messages to officers, employees and members of various UFCW Locals.”
Feinberg said Lopez used “proprietary” contact information that “constitutes both a conversion of union property and a violation of the recipient’s right of privacy.”
His law firm on Wednesday demanded that Lopez immediately cease and desist “any further communications to anyone by means of such illegally misappropriated e-mail addresses and from communicating defamatory messages. Failure to do so will result in legal action against you.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Lopez said he harvested the email addresses from his own private email account and public sources via Web searches.
He said an internal probe of Kasparian was a “reasonable request” of the Washington-based UFCW.
“They’re ignoring a huge problem,” Lopez said. “I mean, there’s three lawsuits. … If they haven’t done an internal investigation, I want to know why…. If these rumors are true that [Kasparian is] falsifying receipts and misusing dues, I want an audit.”
He said he also planned to call the U.S. Department of Labor and file a complaint, noting a threat to deprive him of his free-speech rights.
Kasparian didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did Feinberg, who sent the letter to Lopez via UPS next-day air.
But Friday, the deputy communications director of the international UFCW issued a statement, saying: “Sadly, it is our understanding that these allegations are being made by a former staff member who was fired from the local for falsifying time records. While we take the concerns of any member seriously, there is absolutely no evidence of financial misdeeds whatsoever.”
The spokeswoman, Jessica “Jess” Levin, said UFCW 135’s books are audited every six months by an independent firm, “and the local’s financials are strong and solid.”
She added: “With respect to the other issues, they have been addressed directly by President Kasparian and by an internal committee led by female leaders of the local. The internal review, which was conducted independent of President Kasparian, reflects some of the significant steps that the local has taken to address these questions.
“Additionally, by every measure, President Kasparian has the strong support of his members. In his years as president, he has promoted female leaders and encouraged a positive and diverse work environment, while holding all staff accountable to the high standards our members expect and deserve.”
Dan Gilleon, a San Diego lawyer representing Kasparian’s accusers, called Feinberg’s note “baseless, bullying and retaliatory.”
“There’s a reason you did not quote any alleged ‘false and defamatory messages’ and instead just made that empty accusation,” Gilleon wrote Feinberg. “Anyone who has read Mr. Lopez’s post knows no defamation occurred.”
Gilleon said Feinberg’s theory of “conversion and privacy” would have earned him an F-minus on any law school exam. “‘Illegally misappropriated e-mail address’? Are you serious?”
He challenged Feinberg to file an action against Lopez.
“We look forward to getting a judgment against your clients, both under California’s anti-SLAPP statute and through a direct action for whistleblower retaliation,” Gilleon wrote.
Lopez, 41, says he’s been a UFCW Local 135 member for more than 20 years, even working in the union office for several years.
In a Facebook post, Lopez wrote: “I think Mickey Kasparian is scared, and is using our union dues to try and intimidate, and bully people who stand up to him. Sorry, Mickey, you don’t scare me.”
He told Times of San Diego that he thinks the Feinberg letter violates his right to free speech, “and I don’t want my rights violated under the LMDRA Act,” for the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
Lopez has taken part in protests on behalf of Kasparian accusers Isabel Vasquez, Sandy Naranjo and Anabel Arauz, once even claiming he was targeted for a citizens arrest by Kasparian.
On April 19, Lopez wrote of Kasparian: “His removal from office is inevitable, and I say let it come!”
On Thursday, he said on Facebook: “What a despicable and cowardly act to threaten a dues-paying member. I will not remain silent. What are they trying to hide?”
On the phone, Lopez aded: “I think it’s a reasonable request for a union member who pays union dues — not only to Local 135 but to the international union — that there be … some sort of investigation. And that’s the only thing I ask for, and I got that threatening letter.”