Mickey Kasparian, introducing his San Diego Working Families Council.
Mickey Kasparian, shown introducing his San Diego Working Families Council, said Wednesday: “I am very proud that our union is one of the most financially secure unions in the State of California.” Photo by Ken Stone

The president of the international union where Mickey Kasparian is one of 52 vice presidents has broken his “silence” on the San Diego labor leader.

Anthony “Marc” Perrone, who leads the Washington-based United Food and Commercial Workers union, replied Wednesday to UFCW Local 135 member Chris Lopez of Chula Vista.

“You have made suggestions that the International can freely remove a local union president based on accusations made by others,” Perrone wrote via email. “Please understand, the UFCW International Union does not have this authority.”

UFCW International Union President Marc Perrone’s letter to Local 135 member Chris Lopez. (PDF)

Perrone, whose union boasts 1.3 million members, responded two weeks after Lopez, and then others, appealed for action against Kasparian, who settled lawsuits with four women who alleged sexual misconduct or being fired as punishment for supporting other accusers.

“Kasparian’s decision to settle all four lawsuits and pay out the plaintiffs is not normal behavior for any innocent person,” Lopez wrote. “So this brings me to ask you: How much of our union dues money was paid out to make these lawsuits go away?”

On Wednesday, the UFCW International union’s general counsel said union dues could be used to defend the local — but that insurance would eventually cover the expense.

Nick Clark, the UFCW attorney, told Times of San Diego that when a union is sued, it has to respond. An insurance policy to cover such expenses “is prudent,” he said.

Chris Lopez at an anti-Mickey Kasparian protest outside UFCW Local 135 offices in Mission Valley. Image via Facebook

Clark couldn’t say if insurance covered any Kasparian settlement costs, but said such payments would be “normal, appropriate, approved. And we have no evidence to the contrary.”

Earlier this week, in its annual filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Mission Valley-based union disclosed that it paid its legal team $664,000 in 2017 to defend Kasparian against the four lawsuits.

The local’s total legal expenses topped $1 million last year, compared with typical annual costs of around $200,000.

The Form LM-2 filing also said the union’s insurance carrier paid out $269,000 in 2017 legal reimbursements — with about $183,000 still expected in 2018.

However, Lopez and others say Kasparian promised members at an April 2017 union meeting that no union dues would go toward his legal costs.

UFCW Local 135’s 2017 financial disclosure. (PDF)

Citing labor law, Perrone wrote Lopez: “Please understand the decision to investigate or take action at this time is particularly precarious. Federal law prohibits using union funds to support any member’s candidacy for union office. … If someone were to make similar allegations against you, we would exercise similar restraint.”

In a phone interview, UFCW attorney Clark echoed that thought: “We do not need to have our fingers on the scale when there’s a local union election…. Whenever folks are running for elections, accusations fly, and we at the international have to be careful that we are not interfering.”

Clark said he’s seen people targeted by #MeToo accusations resign from a lot of groups.

“You see minimal or no due process,” he said. “We can’t do that. We can’t take that someone’s being accused.”

Lopez, in his letter to Perrone, slammed the international president’s “inaction and silence” on Kasparian.

Clark said it’s appropriate for union members to raise a question, “but to get action you have to do more than simply make a demand…. You have to come up with some kind of evidence that would indicate that something inappropriate happened. And we don’t have that here.”

Dan Gilleon, the attorney for Kasparian’s four female accusers, said: “Gov. Code 815.3 says elected government officials should bear [legal] costs themselves. Don’t see why an elected official to private office, who gets paid more than public officials, should get treated better.”

Leo Kay is regional public affairs director of the Department of Labor’s San Francisco Office.

Asked for comment on the question of union dues being used for legal expenses, Kay said the Office of Labor-Management Standards couldn’t talk about any specific allegations.

He instead pointed to the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, whose Title V provides safeguards for union finances.

“LMRDA section 501(c) provides potential criminal penalties for unauthorized union expenditures,” he said, adding that OLMS enforces section 503(b), which provides that unions and employers shall not, “directly or indirectly pay the fine of any officer or employee convicted of any willful violation” of the LMRDA.

The UFCW’s Clark suggested this shouldn’t be an issue with Local 135, since its executive board approved the ballooning legal expenses (and insurance premiums) — as well as other new costs, such as $11,000 for union security.

Kasparian, whose latest annual salary was $215,000, wouldn’t respond to a series of questions Wednesday.

But the Democratic powerbroker said in an email statement: “We have always maintained excellent insurance coverage. Legal fees coming from lawsuits and or judgments, filed against the local union, get reimbursed from our insurance carrier.

“We had a very successful 2017. Ending the year with yet another surplus. I am very proud that our union is one of the most financially secure unions in the State of California. My staff and I continue to have one focus: Dedicating ourselves to the workers who we represent.”

Perrone suggested in his “Dear Brother Lopez” letter that he had “been advised” that Lopez may challenge Kasparian for Local 135 president this year.

Lopez said via email Wednesday night: “I am [awaiting] nominations, and at that time I would possibly consider it.”

(His wife, Jessica Lopez, who works at the Coronado Vons, said in an earlier interview that she wouldn’t want her husband to challenge Kasparian for a three-year term.)

Later this month, the UFCW International Union will hold its convention in Las Vegas. Kasparian didn’t respond to a question on whether he would seek re-election as vice president.

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