By Ken Stone
Mickey Kasparian’s 15-year tenure as president of the local grocery workers union — and bankroller of local Democratic candidates — could end in December or be extended another three years.
On Saturday, the newsletter of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 announced nominations open for officers in the Mission Valley-based union.
Bruce “Todd” Walters, a former Local 135 vice president, said in July that he would challenge Kasaparian for president. But no election had been called.
On Sunday, Kasparian declined to say exactly when or where the 12,250-member union would vote.
“Our election process is an internal matter for our union members,” he said via email. “People who have no track record and zero contract negotiating experience want to turn this into a media event.”According to The Worker announcement, the nomination-petition deadline is noon Nov. 26 — with nominees having until Nov. 28 to accept or decline candidacy.
Kasparian, who became a lightning rod for criticism amid a series of now-settled sex harassment, gender bias and wrongful termination lawsuits, said he would stay focused on what’s most important to members and their families.
“That’s improving their wages and continuing to protect their health benefits and their retirement,” he said.
Slates of a dozen candidates each — including nine vice presidents — are expected to be revealed in Local 135.
Walters said his slate would be announced later this week.
But the timing of the nomination announcement and the unclear election date has raised alarms for Walters, a dissident board member who Kasparian fired as Local 135 grievance director.
“Mickey decides the date and he has chosen to delay the vote into the holiday season,” Walters said Monday. “We feel this is blatant voter suppression.”
Walters said November and December is the hardest time of the year for retail employees to have extra time off and Kasparian is hoping many will not vote.
“This is the same tactic that he used when he proposed the vote of that merger scheme to unite two UFCW territories,” Walters said via email. “Good thing we stopped it, otherwise Local 135 would have gone out of existence and we and members of two other locals would have been stuck.”Overseeing the election is Rick Slayton, a former secretary-treasurer at UFCW Local 1529 in Tennessee. Slayton did not respond to a request for comment.
But Walters notes that the Washington-based UFCW international union recommended Slayton as election chair “who in the interest of fairness should determine the number and location of polling stations.”
According to the UFCW Constitution, “The local union president shall select a general chairperson, who shall be a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers, to supervise the conduct of the nominations and election and not less than three members to act as election judges to assist the general chairperson.”
It wasn’t clear whether Kasparian had a hand in picking the election chair.
Walters said: “Our many supporters have been pressing for this election for months; they are motivated to elect our slate, and they will do so absent insurmountable obstacles to voting.”
Among other things, Walters is upset that Kasparian had a head start in circulating petitions to gather the required 245 nomination signatures — 2 percent of local membership.
“Because he has access to the petitions, Mickey already took an unfair advantage by sending out his business agents with petitions last Saturday,” Walters said. “It won’t make any difference as our supporters are highly motivated, but it shows that Mickey has already begun to break the rules.”
Might Kasparian and Walters — and any other president candidates — meet to debate?
“I would do anything it takes to have a debate,” Walters said. “The best chance for us to have a debate would be the yearly Union Stewards Conference, which interestingly enough is the week after Thanksgiving.”Walters said that as long as all candidates are given a chance to take part, no concern should exist about the use of union resources to favor a particular candidate.
“That said, we believe that Mickey will decline our invitation, but we also suspect that he will improperly use the stewards conference to try to bolster his very poor standing among the membership,” said the 51-year-old Escondido resident.
In July, Kasparian said he was focusing on negotiating successful contracts for Rite Aid members this year “and for my Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons and Stater Bros. members next year.”
Earlier this month, Local 135 celebrated the ratification of a new 3- year contract by Rite Aid pharmacists, technicians and clerks “that protected their health benefits with across-the-board wage increases.”
“Protecting [members’] health care, their retirement and improving their lives is truly where my priorities lie,” Kasparian said in July.
On Monday, Walters said the labor movement in Southern California, and especially in San Diego, is badly fractured because of Kasparian.
“The members of the UFCW 135 are no longer supported by the other unions in the AFL-CIO, which removed Mickey from his position as head of the Labor Council,” he said.
“Labor needs to support one another — we cannot be on our own island and expect to fight these huge corporations. I will rejoin the [San Diego-Imperial] Labor Council, work together with my counterparts in the Southern California UFCW bargaining unit. We will have a much better chance of succeeding when we are all on the same team.”
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