By Ken Stone
Mickey Kasparian faces a probe by the labor union he led for 15 years, possibly leading to “litigation for damages,” its new president said Friday.
The former Democratic power broker could be a target of legal action to claw back union money he’s thought to have spent on personal legal settlements.
Todd Walters, newly elected president of UFCW Local 135, said Friday that “we spoke to our legal counsel (newly hired Glenn Rothner of Pasadena) about that and we are going to do an investigation. … We’re not sure what’s out there. We suspect some things, and we’re going to look into those.”
The Mission Valley-based United Food and Commercial Workers local also might turn over information to the U.S. Department of Labor and “let them clean it up,” Walters said.
Last summer, Walters said federal filings and internal Local 135 audits proved a settlement with one of Kasparian’s female accusers was paid out of union dues — perhaps as much as $670,000.
Kasparian contends that Local 135’s insurance carrier paid the settlements of four women who alleged sex harassment, gender discrimination and wrongful termination (among other claims).
Sitting in the small room he once used as vice president and grievance director, Walters, 51, said he refuses to use Kasparian’s old suite of offices and conference rooms, where incidents of alleged harassment took place.
“My personal feeling is that office is tarnished, and I don’t want anything to do with it,” Walters said.
He and his leadership team — including Secretary-Treasurer Grant Tom, 52, and Recorder Maribel Mckinze, 36 — are reviewing ideas for that second-floor space. It could become a member “resource center,” Tom said.
In only his second day back in the office, Walters was putting out fires. The local’s San Marcos office recently had its electricity turned off for nonpayment of bills. Tom is scrambling to get administrative access to the Local 135 website. He lacks a password.
And Walters revealed that former Local 135 comptroller Brian Kelly would return Jan. 14 to the same position. A 16-year union accountant, Kelly resigned in July — hours after Walters was fired as a dissident vice president.
Friday afternoon, Kasparian called himself “happily retired” and said he found it amazing that leaders of the 12,100-member union are “continuing their obsession with me rather than focusing in on the members.”
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He also told Times of San Diego via email: “I have stayed silent on who these people really are. I never felt it was in the best interest of our members to drag our union through the mud via social media or the press.”
Kasparian said it’s time to move on.
“But make no mistake about it,” he said. “If this harassment and assault of my character continues, I will take serious legal action and expose each and every one of them for who they truly are.”
Informed of the Kasparian threat, Walters said: “Wow.” He didn’t elaborate.
But Walters, in his first extended interview since his “Team Todd” slate ousted Kasparian in mid-December by a 2-to-1 ratio, said he was already meeting with leaders of six other Southern California UFCW locals.
They are preparing for March contract talks with supermarket chains including Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs, Stater Brothers and Food 4 Less.
On Thursday, Walters traveled to Local 324 in Buena Park, where 15-20 UFCW officials and lawyers began to discuss strategy on its biggest contract.
“There wasn’t anything decided upon as far as formal demands,” Walters said. “Just a bunch of people exchanging ideas at this point.”
One concern is technology. Amazon Go stores do away with cashiers. Instacart lets people pick out groceries online and arrange for delivery. Shoppers also can be given handheld scanners to avoid checkout lines.
“Sometimes you can’t stop it,” Walters said of such efforts, “but you gotta find a way how to control it and work with it. And how to change that to benefit the [union] members.”
In the wake of his removal as president of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council, Kasparian pulled Local 135 out and launched his own group — the San Diego Family Workers Council — in May 2017.
Walters is moving fast to rejoin the Labor Council, saying he spoke Thursday night with Keith Maddox, its executive secretary-treasurer, who promised to send paperwork.
“Our goal is to reaffiliate with the Labor Council by the end of the month, absolutely,” perhaps as early as Jan. 23, when it holds its monthly meeting, he said.
But Walters won’t emulate Kasparian — “driven by his passion with politics” — as a Democratic Party influencer.“That’s not me,” Walters said. “I’m not that much of a political person…. I’m not a big one to go out and have lunches with politicians.”
Instead, he’ll delegate political chores to Mckinze, a Rancho San Diego resident “but a proud South Bay girl.”
“Maribel is going to take the role,” said Vistan Walters, who like Tom and Mckinze was a Bernie Sanders backer in 2016. “UFCW 135 is not going to leave politics 100 percent, but I think we’re going to start re-evaluating politics — what benefits our members? — and focus our resources on that.”
Walters said Kasparian had been diverting “a lot of union dues” monthly into a political-action committee fund that “only he would decide what to spend it on.”
The Local 135 board at some point approved a motion to feed member dues into the PAC, he said, but “there was no checks and balances needed, no votes by the board to spend the money.”
According to state records, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 135 PAC has parceled out at least $1.23 million since its 2003 founding.
A spokeswoman for the Washington-based UFCW confirmed that Kasparian is retiring and would lose his international vice presidency. (He was re-elected over the summer.)
“Retirees can’t be active members of the board,” she said.
Will the international UFCW cooperate with Local 135 in any investigation?
“As we understand,” she said, “any relevant internal budget information is available to Local 135, not the International. It really is up to Local 135 to analyze its own past and current budgeting.”
The spokeswoman said Kasparian hasn’t spoken with international UFCW President Anthony “Marc” Perrone.
But the parent union has reached out to the new San Diego brass, she said via email, adding: “As with any local, we are available to help new leadership in any way to ensure that we are serving the needs of our members.”
As president, Walters leaves his temporary 24-hour-a-week Albertsons job working in the stock room for about $16 an hour. (He declined a higher-paying meat-cutter job because he wanted to work the overnight shift to be free to campaign.)
The father of two grown sons (including one working at a unionized Costco in Carlsbad) said the nine-woman, three-man board hasn’t decided on its pay. (Kasparian made about $215,000 a year.)
But Walters won’t move closer to Mission Valley.
“I worked here before, commuting five days a week,” he said. “So it’s nothing new.”
An earlier version of this story included a wrong spelling of Mckinze.
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