Mickey Kasparian Unfazed by Ex-Aide Challenging Him for UFCW Presidency

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Todd Walters is the first announced challenger to Mickey Kasparian as president of UFCW Local 135. Photo via Walters

By Ken Stone

At least publicly, Mickey Kasparian doesn’t appear bothered by news that he’s being challenged for re-election as president of the powerful San Diego food workers union.

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On Monday, Bruce “Todd” Walters posted a letter he sent to Kasparian of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 that he formerly served as vice president and grievance director.

Walters announced that he would seek the presidency of the 12,253-member Mission Valley-based union.

His slate would seek to sweep out one that includes Richard Barrera, the Local 135 secretary-treasurer and San Diego Unified school board member.

But hours later, Kasparian said: “Rather than respond to people with personal agendas, I’m keeping my focus on negotiating successful contracts for my Rite Aid members this year and for my Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons and Stater Bros. members next year.”

Kasparian declined to say when he would call an election or whether he’d revive a merger effort with a UFCW local covering San Bernardino and Riverside counties. But he told Times of San Diego via email: “Protecting [members’] health care, their retirement and improving their lives is truly where my priorities lie.”

Walters, despite being fired as grievance chief by Kasparian and resigning from the local’s executive board, became eligible to run for the top post by taking a job Friday at an Escondido Albertsons — a unionized store.

He’s working several days a week for $15 an hour as a merchandise clerk, he said in a phone interview.

On Monday, Walters said he and fellow union members were out campaigning in the stores.

“We are already having regional meetings that members are attending,” he said via email. “I will reveal my slate when Mickey puts out the notice of nomination of officers.”

Under union bylaws, the election has to be held before Kasparian’s term ends Dec. 31. He’s led Local 135 since late summer of 2003, succeeding Norman Bell.

What are Walters’ plans for Local 135?

“We will make the union better by improving the website, getting an interactive app, having union reps and an [executive board] who will treat members with respect and represent members needs,” he said.

But he apparently won’t seek to emulate Kasparian’s efforts to personally shape local Democratic politics.

Todd Walters’ letter announcing his run for presidency of UFCW Local 135. (PDF)
“We will stop the wasteful political spending and focus on negotiations,” Walters said. “Most importantly, we will have a union that treats women with respect!”

That was a reference to Kasparian’s history of being sued by women — including three members of his own local. The sex harassment, bias and wrongful termination suits were settled with Kasparian not admitting any wrongdoing.

Walters said Local 135 would rejoin the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council — a coalition of labor groups where Kasparian was removed as president in 2017.

“We know that it is a major benefit to our members and our union to be in the Labor Council, and we will be back in,” Walters said, adding that Kasparian’s rival Working Families Council “is all but defunct now.”

His reference to wasteful spending doesn’t mean his union wouldn’t be an active player in politics, however.

“Local 135 will be in solidarity with the San Diego/Imperial Counties Labor Council,” he said.

Walters didn’t specify whether he expected to make the same salary as Kasparian — $215,000. But the 51-year-old union veteran said, if elected, the new executive board would be making salary decisions for all executive staff.

He also sought to allay any concerns about negotiations with major employers.

“As the grievance director and a union rep, I have over 13 years of experience negotiating the enforcement of all bargaining unit contracts with our employers for the well being and livelihood of our members,” Walters said.

In any case, major talks with Southern California grocers are negotiated with all seven union locals “as a group,” he said.

“We will be in solidarity with [six other] Southern California Locals as well as the UFCW International union,” he said. “Remember that no contract is negotiated by one single person.”

Meanwhile, Local 135’s former comptroller has broken his silence on why he resigned two weeks ago.

The financial official, Brian Kelly, said in a 400-word note — posted last week by Walters on Facebook — that he quit in part because Local 135 leadership “has told lies about the out-of-pocket legal fees concerning the various lawsuits brought against Mickey Kasparian and Local 135.”

Kelly countered Kasparian’s insistence that all legal fees connected to the lawsuits were reimbursed by the local’s insurer.

“This is untrue and is substantiated by the LM2 for 2017,” Kelly said, referring to the mandatory union filing with the Department of Labor. “The financial information therein was audited by an independent accounting firm, reviewed by me, and approved by both Mickey Kasparian and Richard Barerra. If anyone tells you that all the legal fees were completely reimbursed by the insurance company, it is a flat out lie!”

Kelly said the settlement of Melody Godinez’s gender-violence suit was outside the scope of Local 135’s insurance. (She wasn’t a UFCW member.)

“Local 135 paid all legal fees (2018) out of pocket including a settlement and $0 were reimbursed for it,” he said. “This information should be reported in next year’s 2018 LM2.”

Kelly closed by saying: “I think this is shameful behavior by a desperate man in hopes to retain power by keeping you all from the truth. I worked at this local for almost 17 years and have seen how leadership can try to keep people in check through fear and intimidation.

“Todd and I put our jobs at risk to share the truth.”

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