Mickey Kasparian, introducing his San Diego Working Families Council.
Mickey Kasparian, introducing his San Diego Working Families Council in the wake of his being ousted in May 2017 from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. Photo by Ken Stone

Longtime San Diego labor leader Mickey Kasparian was defeated Friday in his bid for re-election, losing his local power base, according to results announced Saturday.

“I’m happy. What a good day this is,” Bruce “Todd” Walters said after winning the presidency of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135. “It was a landslide.”

Walters, a former grievance director and vice president of the Mission Valley-based union, also claimed victory for his “Team Todd” slate of nine women and three men.

Vistan Walters, 51, said he won by nearly 2-to-1 as about 40 percent of the 12,200-member union voted outside (or in rare occasions inside) 72 stores or workplaces across San Diego and Imperial counties. The actual vote count wasn’t immediately available.

Kasparian, a 60-year-old La Mesa resident, has been president since 2003. He assumed a role as local Democratic Party kingmaker and financial resource to candidates and causes. He also was a vice president of the international UFCW. He made at least $215,000.

Also losing his job was Richard Barrera, who as Local 135’s secretary-treasurer made $151,000 last year while also serving as a member of the San Diego Unified school board. The new secretary-treasurer will be Grant Tom. All officers serve three-year terms.

In announcing his victory on Facebook, Walters said: “The results of this election is an awakening in the consciousness of union members nationwide that will bring awareness, transparency, ethics, honesty and integrity to the labor movement. That is how much of an impact YOU have brought to our union. We look forward to serving you in the new year.”

Kasparian didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Walters and his slate accused Kasparian of using union dues to pay off a series of female accusers in lawsuit settlements. Four women said Kasparian had sexually harassed them or were targets of wrongful termination or gender discrimination.

Todd Walters will succeed Mickey Kasparian as president of UFCW Local 135 on Jan. 1. Photo via Walters

The election came nearly two years to the day after Sandy Naranjo filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Kasparian and UFCW Local 135.

“This encouraged Isabel Vasquez to step forward with her sexual harassment case,” said a Facebook posting Friday. “Standing in solidarity with her union sisters, Local 135 organizer Anabel Arauz spoke out against her boss and she was terminated. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against him.”

Melody Godinez, a county employee, later sued Kasparian, saying he groped her and urged her to take part in a Hilton San Diego Bayfront sex foursome.

A year ago, in the wake of pressure from Democrats and others, Kasparian resigned from the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee, citing “an extremely busy year at UFCW Local 135.”

The challengers also said Kasparian negotiated “substandard contracts” and presided over a potential decline in pension benefits.

In a phone interview Saturday, Walters said he’d heard reports on social media that Kasparian was breaking election rules by handing out fliers inside a Viejas casino break room and at a Kaiser hospital during the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. voting.

News of the Walters victory emerged about 5 p.m. Saturday. Nearly four hours later, Walter said he hadn’t yet heard from Kasparian, “and he did not show up to the office for the final count today.”

Walters said Kasparian’s local term ends Dec. 31, but he might be able to land a role with the international UFCW, noting a job vacancy on the Western States Council, where Kasparian is board president.

The council is the regional coordinating body of 11 UFCW local unions representing over 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

A “soft landing” for Kasparian in another UFCW job won’t please Walters, however.

“I hope this SOB just goes away,” he said.

Updated at 9:45 p.m. Dec. 15, 2018

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