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In the closing days of 2016, months before the #MeToo movement, a series of allegations rocked San Diego politics.
First, Sandy Naranja filed a lawsuit against Mickey Kasparian, head of the powerful San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, alleging wrongful termination and gender discrimination. It got more troubling: Another union worker, Isabel Vasquez, soon filed another lawsuit alleging a years-long, coercive sexual relationship with Kasparian that she engaged in out of fear of losing her job. This month, Melody Godinez, a county government employee and labor activist, filed a third lawsuit, alleging Kasparian groped her, propositioned her for group sex and once forcefully pinned her down in his office in an attempt to initiate sex. Three other employees told Voice of San Diego working under Kasparian was toxic, and that he ruled by fear and was especially controlling of women. Another worker, Anabel Arauz, said she was fired for supporting women who spoke out against Kasparian.
Kasparian has denied all of the allegations. He said none of the charges of inappropriate sexual behavior ever happened, and that he’s been nothing but a champion for working women. He told the Union-Tribune he intends to file defamation suits against some of his accusers.
But the allegations themselves set off a firestorm within San Diego’s political left. The national AFL-CIO installed an out-of-town leader to run the Labor Council, and Kasparian formed a splinter group called the San Diego Working Families Council. He has split with other powerful labor leaders from the San Diego Building and Construction Trades and the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, who have risen in stature while he’s been increasingly marginalized. That feud has spilled into the county’s Democratic Party, too, with the party chair getting into a scathing exchange with IBEW leaders over protesters who oppose the party’s continued support for Kasparian.
There was a time when the Labor Council – a union of unions, basically – spoke as the unified voice of labor workers throughout the county. That’s over now.
It changed when accusers said “Me too,” long before #MeToo was a thing.
This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.