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San Diego Labor Council Leaders Form New Coalition After Being Ousted by National AFL-CIO

After months of turmoil, the national AFL-CIO and President Richard Trumka decided to take over the San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council, ousting its leaders.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of national labor unions, ordered the removal of leaders of the local San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council on Monday and put it under a receivership.

The move prompted several local unions, including two of the largest, to leave the Labor Council and announce the formation of a new entity, the San Diego Working Families Council.

The dramatic moves follow months of turmoil in the local labor movement following allegations of sexual harassment against Mickey Kasparian, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 and now ousted leader of the Labor Council. Kasparian and Dale Bankhead, who was also pushed out as secretary-treasurer, plan a press conference for Tuesday morning.

Jerry Butkiewicz, the former secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council, will help take over as a trustee of the organization. Keith Maddox, a national representative of the AFL-CIO, will serve as deputy.

Maddox told me late Monday that the move comes after weeks of effort and inquiry into the controversy in the organization. Maddox had previously assured local leaders that the AFL-CIO was not going to take over the local council.

“We worked hard to find a solution short of a trusteeship but it has gotten to the point that wasn’t going to happen,” Maddox said. He confirmed the decision was Trumka’s.

“Right now we need to rebuild the council back to its power,” he said.

That will be not be easy, at least not at first. The union Kasparian leads is the largest in the county. Also joining Kasparian’s new coalition are Service Employees International Union Local 221, Teamsters Local 542, Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 30, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309, Laborers International Union Local 89 and Communications Workers of America Local 9509.

On the other hand, other unions had already left the Labor Council in the midst of all the turmoil. Some may return.

Kasparian and his allies have been in a sometimes vicious battle of rhetoric with rivals on the Labor Council, led by the San Diego Building Trades Council, its own coalition of construction-focused unions. Tensions have been high and both sides fought over who they should support for president of the San Diego City Council: Councilman David Alvarez or Councilwoman Myrtle Cole. With Kasparian and the Labor Council’s backing, Cole won.

Kasparian offered only a simple statement.

“Their decision was in reaction to what we had planned,” he wrote in a message saying he’d have more to say at the press conference Tuesday morning at the headquarters of UFCW Local 135.

Update: Wording was updated for clarity.

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